I remember being a high school student so stressed about the future. Now, I’m less than a year out from my college graduation, but I learned a lot in my years on campus, albeit brief. From then until now, my “must-haves” list in a school has shifted. Currently, I’m in the process of looking into grad school, and the questions I’m asking now are quite different than what I was asking then. I know I did a ton of college application posts back when I was going through the process myself, but now that I’m a bit older and wiser and everything makes sense, I wanted to share what you really should be looking for in a college the first time around.
Quite literally, where do you see yourself? Where do you want to be? Location is a big deal for so many reasons. There are some industries that really only exist in a specific location, so going to school in that area will provide you a better chance of building connections and finding opportunities. In terms of campus life, a school with a big campus in the countryside will have a very different culture than one in the middle of a big city. You also have to consider climate, how far you want to be from home, friends, and family, and how difficult traveling to campus will be (especially for move-in and move-out).
I wanted to stay within proximity to New York City since it’s such a media hub, which is coincidentally so close to home. I also didn’t want to move anywhere further north since I hate the cold, and I wanted some elements of a traditional college experience, which is why I chose a small liberal arts school in a suburban area.
Size matters. A lot. A small campus environment is totally different than that of a huge college, and even small schools can be different depending on their enrollment numbers. In the classroom, the size of the school can dictate how big your classes are, and with that, how your professor approach learning and assignments. For your free time, how many students are on campus will probably dictate how many involvement opportunities there are and how many campus resources are available to you.
I wanted a small college since I came from such a tiny high school and I though that too big of a campus would be overwhelming for me. While I feel like I’ve since grown out of my college a little, I’ve been finding ways to supplement my experience so I don’t feel like my growth is constrained or restricted by the environment. I do feel, however, that the small school was the perfect place to start and that my desire for a bigger environment may not have been as big had the pandemic not occurred.
I’m pretty sure every prospective college student looks at overall majors, but have you thought about looking into the specific curriculum of your school? Even if you have two very similar schools offering the same major, the requirements to accomplish that major might be very different. Additionally, each school is going to have their own policy on a core curriculum (sometimes referred to as liberal arts curriculum or general education courses, and can also include first-year program requirements). Looking into and comparing required courses and degree curriculum is often overlooked, but extremely important when it comes to your college decision!
In almost any college environment, you’ll have the choice to take a few electives. Trust me, your electives can be just as important as your required courses! They can be a way to explore or discover new interests, broaden your knowledge of a topic you’ve already gotten a foundation in, or just be something fun and different to try while you’re in college. You can usually find what electives are available to you in the college’s course catalog.
Fair warning: course offerings do change out. A lot. From my experience, though, getting an overall feel for what kinds of classes are offered as a whole is much better than going in blindly and struggling to find something you like!
In my years in college, I’ve had quite a few different types of professors and all of them teach very differently. Professors who have a background in academia are more likely to teach out of a textbook, while professors who are working professionals are more likely to teach from their personal experiences and use more interactive learning methods. Often times, professors who are working professionals have more connections that they’ll connect you with, or even bring them in for guest speaking or activities. Considering both learning style and what you’d ideally like to get out of your education can help you figure out which types of professors you’d prefer to find. If you want to see faculty lists from your colleges, you can look at the department websites to learn more about the different professors who teach, their backgrounds, and what courses they teach.
To be completely honest, I never really considered faculty in my college search, but as I’m preparing for grad school, it’s one of the items I was sure to look out for. I have a preference for professors who are working professionals, and my top choice grad school is essentially just that!
College isn’t just about the classroom! Extracurricular experiences, like clubs and organizations, can make a huge difference in your education. Most schools will have a list of offerings available to you online! I knew that I wanted to get involved with media organizations, so I geared myself towards schools that had opportunities that matched. The types of organizations available (and how many there are) can also tell you a lot about interests and student life before you even step foot on campus. I know that offerings have changed a lot at my school since the pandemic, but looking at student involvement was honestly one of the greatest factors in my decision between the school I chose and my runner up.
Everyone will be looking for a different experience in college, and there is never one right way to do it. However, I feel that some of the essential points I should have looked at earlier were never really covered in the pre-application info sessions. Best of luck on your college journey!
Have a terrific day,