10 questions to ask yourself to find your perfect college

Yesterday was one of my favorite traditions at my college — Day For Admitted Students, affectionately known as DFAS. In past years, I’ve always participated in DFAS as a representative of our student newspaper, The Flat Hat. However, since I’m a second-semester senior, I’m essentially retired from my role on the paper. So, while the current staff was passing out copies of the latest issue to prospective students, I decided to volunteer for DFAS in a different capacity. I had the opportunity to mingle with prospective students and their parents at the breakfast event first thing in the morning and man, I love talking to people about this school!

In the DFAS spirit, for this week’s blog post, I wanted to share my tips on how to pick the college that’s right for you. Choosing a school can be a super daunting task but it doesn’t have to be impossible!

 

 

Choosing what college to attend can feel overwhelming, but this post is all about how to make the most informed decision you possibly can so you can pick the best college for you. | 10 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF TO FIND YOUR PERFECT COLLEGE | HONEYBEE JOYOUS 

 

Pro tip: Make a list of your ideal qualities for a college. Write down your responses to each of these questions without any particular school in mind. Then, compare the features of each of your options to the features of your ideal school. This will help you clarify your wants and needs so you can make a more informed decision.

 

 

1. How much does it cost?

I wanted to lead with this question because it is one of the most important things to consider. I didn’t apply to any out-of-state schools because staying in-state is soooo much more affordable and Virginia has so many incredible in-state schools. However, I also was offered a pretty substantial scholarship at a school I didn’t end up going to. Whatever you decide your budget is, just make sure you’re taking a look at the cost of the school. It might be worth it to attend a pricier school, but you should be informed about the pros and cons of spending more money on your education.

Some schools have a high tuition rate, but offer significant financial aid to almost everyone. Other schools have relatively low tuition but absolutely exorbitant fees (hello W&M!). And don’t forget about meal plans and housing costs! It can be a bit difficult to find the true cost of attending a school, but it’s definitely worth doing the research on so you can be informed while considering this very important factor.

Also, be especially sure you know what you’re doing in terms of student loans! Everyone’s situation is different, but no matter what you decide to do, make sure you’ve done your research and understand what you’re doing before you accept any money from anyone.

 

2. What size school is right for me?

To me, there are three ways to consider the size of a school. The first is the size of the school as a whole. That one is pretty easy and clear cut. Schools usually have the size of their student population published online and you can easily see if it’s a small, medium, or large school. I knew I wanted a smaller school but not so small that I would know every single person on campus. William and Mary has about 6,000 undergraduate students and it’s absolutely the perfect size for me. I always have opportunities to meet new people and interact with other students I’ve never met before, but I also always pass friends on my walks to classes and I don’t ever feel lost in a sea of strangers. Everybody’s preferences are different though, so be sure to see if the schools you’re looking at are a size that would suit your needs best.

The second kind of size to consider is the size of the actual program you’re looking to be in. Now, what exactly this means is different for every college and every student. But I’d say if you have to apply specifically into a program (like nursing, pre-med, business, education, or something like that), be sure to consider the size of your specific program. If you know what you want to major in, even look into that particular department. Do you want to be one of just a few students in your field or do you want to be part of a large group of students? Are you looking for a close-knit community within your field of study or would you rather have your choice of study groups?

Lastly, don’t forget to consider class size. Most schools will publish their average class size, but this isn’t actually that helpful of a statistic. It’s much better if you’re able to talk to a real student and see how many people they’ve had in their classes. Generally, class size depends on department and on the level of the class, but it’s important to know if you’re only going to be taking a few large lecture classes or if most of your courses will be in that format. It’s also good to know if you’ll be taking seminar classes. I personally learn much better in small seminar-style courses, but I know people who really enjoy large lecture classes. Once again, it mostly comes down to personal preference and being informed.

 

3. What kind of academic program am I looking for?

Some people go into college knowing exactly what they want to major in, and that’s great! If that’s your case, this point is pretty obvious — make sure the school you’re thinking about actually offers your major.

If you’re more like me and you’re going into school with no idea what you want to do, you’re better off making sure your college has a lot of options for majors. That way, no matter what you decide you’re interested in, you can find a program of study for it.

A few more questions under this umbrella you might want to ask yourself: Do I want to get to know a couple of professors really well or do I want to have a lot of different professors to use as resources? Do I want professors who do a lot of cool research or do I want professors who focus their energy on teaching? Do I want to do research as an undergrad?

 

4. Will my high school classes give me any college credit?

When I was looking at colleges, my dad made me a chart that showed all the schools I was considering and how many credits I would have coming into each one. I graduated high school with an IB Diploma, but maybe your school offered lots of AP classes or maybe you did dual enrollment. Whatever your high school experience looked like, be sure to check how each college considers the coursework you’ve already done and see if you’re able to enter with any transfer credit.

 

5. How do I want to be involved outside of the classroom?

In high school, students are often encouraged to join as many extracurricular activities as possible so that it looks good on college applications. In college, however, you might decide you want to go for depth over breadth. Think about how much time you want to devote to extracurriculars and what kind of activities you would like to be doing, then see if the school offers what you’re looking for.

If you really want to write for the student newspaper, be sure to pick a school that has one! If you want to join a sorority, pick a school that has Greek life. If your faith is important to you, select a school with a prominent campus ministry for your religious affiliation. How easy is it to start a new club at a school if they don’t have what you’re looking for? If you want to or need a job while in school, consider how many on-campus job the school offers and how accessible off-campus jobs like retail stores and restaurants are. As important as academics are in college, you’re not going to be spending your whole time in class or studying, so you can’t forget to consider the non-academic ways you’ll be spending your time.

 

6. Do this school’s priorities match mine?

This question is essentially getting at the school’s reputation and how it markets itself. Are you looking for a school where student life revolves a lot around Greek life and football games? Or would you rather be somewhere that prides itself on rigorous academics? If you have absolutely no interest in football but that’s what most of a school’s social life revolves around, then maybe it’s not the right school for you — and there’s nothing wrong with that! You just need to know what you’re getting yourself into and consider prioritizing going to school in a place where your priorities are front and center.

 

7. What kind of campus am I looking for?

You might only be able to answer this question after touring a few different kinds of campuses. Do you feel most at home at a school in the city, where academic buildings sit next to office buildings, taxis drive by outside, and you have to take the subway to campus? Would you rather be out in the middle of nowhere with rolling hills and bright stars at night? Or do you like the vibe of a traditional “college town” with a whole community and area that revolves around the schedule of your school?

Do you want a compact campus where a “long walk” is 10 minutes to get to the clear opposite side of campus? Or would you rather your campus be spread out so you might have to take buses or cross train tracks to get from end to end? Once again, there’s pros and cons to every setup, but it’s so crucial to consider what you prefer because you don’t want to end up living on what’s basically a cow farm if you’re an NYC type of gal.

 

8. What’s important to me in my living situation?

Here’s when we consider things like food and dorms. At most schools that I looked at, freshmen have to live in the on-campus residence halls and at William and Mary, a significant proportion of students live on campus their entire time at school! Do you want to live on campus or would you rather live in an off-campus apartment or house? What’s important to you in terms of housing? Location? Amenities? Air conditioning? Roommates? How much does the school you’re considering allow you to have input into these things and how much do you just have to trust they’ll make the right choice about?

Do you like to cook? If so, would your housing options offer you a kitchen where you could cook? How are the restaurants in the area? How are the dining halls? Do you have to buy a meal plan?

Housing and food are definitely things you should consider being uncompromising on because they are some of the things you truly can’t avoid. You have to live somewhere and you have to eat, so you should take these things seriously, but also remember that most people don’t have a palace for their first apartment. Prioritize your health, safety, and preferences, but also keep your expectations realistic.

 

9. What kind of post-grad connections and networking opportunities am I looking for? Is name-recognition/prestige important to me?

If you are totally sure about what you want to do with your life, it will be easier for you to answer this question. In some fields, it’s all about who you know and in others it’s more about if your GPA and recommendation letters can get you in to grad school. If you know what you’re doing, then think about how you can make connections in this field and if the school you’re considering can provide you with what you need.

If you’re not sure what you want to do, that’s totally fine, it just makes this question a bit trickier. It’s important to be honest with yourself about what you want and really recognize how important a school’s prestige is to you. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting people to know what you’re talking about when you say the name of your school, but a degree from a less recognizable school is also still a degree! Just make sure you’re truthful with yourself and reflect on how important prestige actually is in your decision-making process.

 

10. Have I gotten ~that feeling~ from a school?

When you’re looking at colleges, people always talk about stepping on to a campus and just knowing. For some people, this is absolutely the case. They visit a school and they vibe with it right away and are able to say without a doubt that that’s where they belong. However, that narrative has become so commonplace that many people feel restless and like they haven’t found their dream school because they don’t just know.

I’m here to tell you a secret: you don’t have to get a special feeling when you visit a campus to thrive at that school. This is something I really struggled with when I was looking for my perfect college. I was looking for ~that feeling~ and getting frustrated when I felt equally fine at every school I visited. In general, I’m not much of an impulsive decision maker, and I get so frustrated when people tell me I’ll “just know” about something. So, it was pretty scary when everybody was telling me I’d get a special feeling when I visited the right college and then I never got that feeling.

Well, I’m just here to say that I’ve had four amazing years at a school that didn’t give me a special feeling! If you visit a campus and it “just feels right” I am so happy for you and I’m glad your decision is a bit easier. BUT, if you never get ~that feeling~ I promise there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. College is what you make of it, and you can turn any place into your home!

 

{If you’re trying to decide on a college, what other questions are you asking yourself? If you’re in the middle of school or have graduated, what do you wish someone told you when you were trying to decide on a college? Leave me a comment below and tell me! I read and respond to every single comment.}

 

 

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