If you are just starting to think about what kind of college to look for, and are fairly open to all the possibilities, you might find it difficult to focus on what matters most. Choosing a college is a process that takes time. It involves making several choices, not just one;and the best way to begin it to think about the really basic, fundamental choices first.
Below are brief outlines of the “big picture” elements you should consider:
Commute from home or live away
Either way, you can have a great college experience; but it will be a much different experience. Don’t decide this on your own – talk to your family, friends and anyone else you trust.
Location, location, location
This choice is usually among the first to make and the most decisive. Do you want to be able to go home whenver you want, or would you rather experience a different part of the country? Are you excited by what a big city can offer, or do you need easy access to the outdoors or the serenity of a small town? Do you hate cold weather, enjoy the different seasons, need to be near a beach?
None of this has much to do with college itself, but it has a lot to do with how much you will enjoy it.
Four-year vs two-year
This choice probably depends on three things: what type of degree you are going for, how much you are willing or able to spend, and if you want to commute from home. Your local community college offers low-cost options either vocational/technical training or the first, two-years of a four-year program. “Junior” colleges are private two-year schools, and are usually more expensive.
Large, medium or small?
This is more than the “big fish, little pond” question. Size can affect your options and experiences, such as the range of majors offered, the variety of student activities available, the amount of personal attention you’ll receive, and the availability and size of the facilities such as laboratories, libraries, and art studios. But remember, large universities are often broken up into small colleges or schools, so you can have it both ways…sort of.
Choosing among these usually depends upon your career goals, and what type of college experience you want.
Liberal arts colleges: emphasize the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, and the development of general knowledge and reasoning ability rather than specific career skills. Most are private, classes tend to be small, and you are likely to get more personal attention than a large university.
Universities: are generally larger than colleges and offer more majors and research facilities. Most universities are subdivided into colleges or schools, such as a college of arts and sciences, a school of engineering, a business school, or a teacher’s college, plus several graduate schools. These subdivisions may all be on the same campus, or spread out over several different campuses.
Agricultural, technical, and career colleges: offer training for specific occupations or industries. Examples include art schools andmusic conservatories, business colleges, schools of health science, and maritime colleges.
Religiously affiliated colleges: are private colleges that are associated with a particular religious faith. The connection may range from being historic only, to being closely integrated into day-to-day student life.
Majors and academic programs
If you have a clear idea of what you want to study, that obviously narrows your college choices to those that offer majors in that field. But, if you are undecided (like most students), look for colleges that offer a broad range of majors and programs. That way you can reduce the chance that you’ll have to transfer once you’ve made up your mind.
You might also want to consider a special study option that can enrich your experience, such as study abroad, cooperative education (where you work in the field as you learn), or an honors program. If experiences like these are important to you, make them part of your college search criteria.
Of course, cost is an important consideration for most students. But don’t let the “sticker shock” scare you away from colleges that might be a good fit. Financial aid often makes up the difference between what you can afford to pay and what college costs. There are several calculators available that will help you estimate the bottom line.