Congratulations! For better or for worse, you have all of the decisions from the college you applied to, and you’re faced with possibly one of the most important decisions of your life: where shall I go? Having been in your shoes, here are ten things I suggest you consider when choosing your college:
#1: Location, location, location
As beautiful as pictures of the idyllic East Coast college life may seem, you may want to think twice if you have lived in sunny California all your life and never experienced a snow day. It is important to consider the surrounding environment of your future home of four years, because it will affect your day-to-day life and overall well-being. Do you want to live in an urban environment where you have to constantly hear cars honking and police sirens blaring, but you can get Chinese food at 2 AM? Or do you want to study on the countryside with a beautiful landscape, but have to drive for half an hour to the nearest city? Do you want to hit the beach every weekend and work on that tan? Or do you want to build a snowman (it doesn’t have to be a snowman)? It all depends on your comfort zone and what you want out of your college experience.
#2: Campus Culture
The people that you meet—in your dorm, classes, clubs—have a significant influence on your college experience. The campus culture determines what type of people you’ll be learning alongside, and the overall norms of the student body. For example, in a politically active and progressive place like Berkeley, it is common for students to get involved in campus activism.. At the same time, other colleges have other unique factors that you may find attractive. People at UChicago are commonly described as “quirky”, and they have age-old traditions and unorthodox games that aren’t found elsewhere. Brown is known as a “hippie” school, where students have unparalleled freedom and can even create their own curriculum.
#3: Tuition (yikes)
Ah, yes. Tuition. It is essential that you sit down and really look at the numbers—your financial aid package and outside scholarships—before determining if you’re able to afford to school of your dreams. As fantastic as going to an Ivy League University sounds, if it will really strain your family finances or burden you with debt, maybe it would be wise to consider other possibilities. Even as an in-state student, the overall cost for UC Berkeley has been unexpectedly high for me. Given rising costs at public universities nationwide, I have very much appreciated not attending a private university where tuition alone can cost almost double of that.
Depending on your major, certain schools may be a better fit for you than others. For example, if you want to major in engineering or computer science, the Electrical Engineering Computer Science (EECS) program at UC Berkeley or MIT may offer more opportunities for you than the CS major at Vanderbilt. Attending a school with a stronger program in your intended area of study can give you better access to renowned professors and networking and research opportunities in that field. As an aspiring business major, I took this into consideration before choosing UC Berkeley over UCLA, because Berkeley has the undergraduate program at the Haas School of Business, while UCLA only has the Business Economics major. If I wanted to pursue a different field, perhaps another school would have been a better place for me.
#5: School Size
There are pros and cons associated with small liberal arts institutions like Pomona College or huge schools like Ohio State University. Coming from a high school of about 2000 students, I wanted to experience a larger setting to have the opportunity to always be meeting new people. However, I also recognized the beauty of small colleges like Claremont McKenna, where the student body is incredibly close-knit and it is much easier to build relationships with professors. While that is something that is missing from my current school, I have also found that the huge student body equates to an unlimited variety of clubs, and the opportunity to start new organizations if I wish. Though it is difficult to navigate the bureaucracy within a large institution in terms of getting advising or financial aid help, the campus is always buzzing with people and events.
Personally, extracurricular activities were the most exciting prospect of college life for me. I was ready to dive into new organizations, and luckily for me there definitely wasn’t a shortage of opportunities for me to participate in at my college. For someone whose life may have been consumed by Model UN, perhaps the size and rigor of the university MUN may be an influential factor in your decision. For people who want to participate in archery or sailing, whether or not the university has those offerings may make or break the school for you. Whether it be the school newspaper, the marching band, the mock trial team, or the robotics club, it is definitely worthwhile to consider what you will want to participate in college, and whether or not the universities you are considering can provide those opportunities. Also important to consider is how competitive these activities are at colleges and whether you’ll feasibly be able to participate.
Though this may be a little more uncomfortable topic, it is very important to consider the makeup of the student body, and whether or not you’ll be comfortable in the environment. If you come from the Bay Area and a majority Asian American high school, would you feel comfortable going to a college where Asian-Americans you make up less than ten percent of the student body? If you identify as LGBTQ, do you feel safe going to school in a community that is not generally accepting of LGBTQ students? There are also other factors that may apply to you, such as being first generation, low-income, or a transfer student, and you’ll have to consider whether you’ll feel comfortable at home in certain environments.
It may be difficult to judge this without visiting in person, but the physical campus can also heavily influence your actual college experience. UCLA has a beautiful landscape in the SoCal sun, while UC Irvine has a lovely neighborhood-like campus tucked in a residential area. UC Santa Barbara, on the other hand, is reminiscent of a beachside resort, while UC Berkeley consists of hills, hills, and more hills. I didn’t think too much about this when making my college decision, but every day when I face the prospect of climbing a long distance to get back to my dorm, I do wistfully wonder what it would be like to go to college on a campus with flat ground.
#9: Social scene
Parties, parties, and more parties? It’s no secret that for many people, college brings images of wild frat parties and Instagram pictures of you dancing with friends in fashionable clothing. There’s a common saying for elite universities that people “study hard and party hard”, so even at schools that greatly emphasize academics you’ll still find opportunities to let loose. Greek life tends to be associated with an active social sphere, and it may be worthwhile to look into the percentage of students who participate in Greek life to get a glimpse into its prominence on the campus social scene.
This is my personal favorite: food! It can be really fun to Google your favorite restaurants and see how far they are from the main campus of your choice schools. Really looking into what will affect your day-to-day life can help you imagine a realistic picture of what your experience will be like at the colleges you are considering. If you’re from the Bay Area and are a diehard boba fan, for example, it may be sad for you to realize that milk tea is almost nonexistent in some midwestern and eastern states.
I hope this list has been helpful, and that this advice will help you make an informed decision that you’ll be grateful for years down the line.
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