From the moment you enter high school, the race begins to get into college. Some students know exactly what school they hope to attend and what career they want to pursue, while others ponder the choices, unsure of where to go let alone what profession to embark upon! Even more students make a college choice based solely on their perception of the campus's atmosphere, and then wind up hating the school and head home by winter break. To help you navigate through the maze of factors in your own new millennium university decision, here are some categories to closely examine:
Your first step to choosing a college is determining your major. Right about now, several of you readers are throwing up your hands, saying, "But I don't know what I want to major in!" Relax. You don't need to commit to one major and stick to it for four years. But having an idea of your interests will help. Junior Amy Ann, for instance, enjoys her history and government classes. So after perusing an index of college majors in her school career center, she found a field of study that seemed to fit her interests International Relations. Next, Amy looked up those schools offering a degree in International Relations and began to narrow her search based on several factors cost, atmosphere, proximity to home, class sizes, and admissions procedures. Is Amy "locked into" a career in International Relations? No way. But she is one step closer to making an educated decision about where she'll spend her university career. In your own search, consider these questions:
- What are your favorite classes? Math? Biology? English? What?
- Is there a career you know of that sounds enjoyable? Something you'd like to study and pursue?
- Do you have a hobby or childhood interest like art or military history for which a college major exists?
- If you could study anything you wanted, what subject would it be?
Now, scrutinize your answers and pick a major, any major. If, however, you still remain clueless about what to study, you may benefit from an aptitude test. Some high school campuses offer career aptitude testing in their career or college preparatory centers. Check with your counselor about this option.
Several books exist that index colleges and major programs to help you decide where to go and what to study. Two popular books available in libraries, bookstores, and campus career centers are Index of Majors and Graduate Degrees (The College Board) and College Handbook 2000 (The College Board).
Another important factor to consider when choosing a college is tuition. College ain't cheap! You need to determine which universities fit your budget. You'll want to confer with Mom and Dad on this component of your search especially since no two schools are created equal when it comes to money. Ivy League colleges your Yale, Harvard, and Stanford variety carry hefty price tags with the prestige. State university systems are typically less financially prohibitive but not if you're from out-of-state and must, therefore, pay nonresident fees. Remember Amy? Her parents urged her to seek an in-state campus to avoid those exorbitant out-of-state fees.
Another component to consider when choosing a college is the school's proximity to home. Does going far away from home seem exciting? How about far enough away to provide some space but close enough to travel home on weekends? Perhaps down the street fits your lifestyle best. Depending upon your personality, you need to decide whether you want to live across the nation or across the street. In Amy's case, she says, "I know I want to go away to school and live on my own and experience that freedom, but I also know I don't want to be farther away than a day's drive or so."
Something else to consider: Do you like the idea of large lecture hall classes, bustling with activity, where you can blend in with the crowds and absorb information? Or might you prefer an intimate setting with small classes and accessibility to professors? Your college experience will prove much different if you decide on a large institution like Notre Dame over a small community college. If you hate crowds, think small. If you love the energy of mucho activity, think big.
Want to find out more about a particular college? Most universities now offer virtual tours. To find a school, either search for it with an engine or try http://www.[school name].edu. Many institutions fit the formula.
Different universities require different admissions procedures. Although the work entailed by a university's admissions requirements (i.e., application process, letters of recommendation, and personal essays) shouldn't weigh heavily in your decision regarding a college, it may. Ultimately, you must weigh whether or not it is worth your time to properly fill out the entire application and include the proper documentation. According to Amy, our student guide, filling out the paperwork is worth the hassle. "This is about four years of my life, my future. I'd rather take the time to apply to the school I really want to attend rather than blow it off because the application is too long," says the future coed.
To beach or not to beach? That is the question! Or, depending upon your preferences, to party or not to party, to ski or not to ski, to bike or not to bike you get the idea. The atmosphere and location of a campus play a huge part in 'the decision to attend one university over another. Beyond the proximity of the campus to area hot spots, every campus carries its own "flavor." You may like, for instance, that a school you're considering sits within miles of great winter skiing, since you love to ski. You may not, however, like the campus in general. The best way to determine if you like the ambience of a campus is to visit.
Now back to Amy. She enjoys the beach and narrowed her search to UC San Diego. To put the final seal of approval on the school, Amy and her parents recently took a road trip from their Northern California home down to the Southern California School.
By researching her choices, Amy not only found a school with a strong reputation for her major, but also found a campus within her family's budget, far enough away from home to ensure her freedom (but not too far), bustling and big for the adventurous spirit in her, and close to the beach. By following these few simple steps, you too can find the perfect college. So hit the books and begin the search.