The college selection process is exciting, time-consuming and thought-provoking. There are lots of factors to consider. You may find that there’s so much to think about that the process is overwhelming. But, you’ll get through it…all college bound students do! Just take things one step at a time and start exploring your options as early as possible.

For example, consider the type of college that’s the best fit for you. Is it a community college? A four-year private college? A four-year church-related institution? A state school? A same-sex college? A military academy? Do you want to attend an out-of-state school or do you prefer to remain in state? Despite all sorts of sometimes unsolicited advice you may receive from friends and family, only you can decide what is best for you.

It is very important to visit those campuses that are of interest to you. Most students elect to visit college campuses during their junior year in high school. It would be wise to check with your guidance counselor or attendance office to determine if there are policies that allow you to miss some of your high school classes without penalty while visiting colleges. When on campus, schedule a tour through the Admissions Office. Talk with current students, visit a class, the student center, the recreational facilities and the residence halls. Pick up a copy of the student newspaper, check out the list of student organizations, get a copy of an academic calendar and attend a campus program if possible. Get a feel for the campus…are you comfortable there? Does it “feel right?” Again, you may get all sorts of advice from well-meaning family and friends, but the decision must be your own.

Academics

  1. Acceptance Rate – the more selective the institution, the lower the acceptance rate. If your SAT score is high and you did well academically in high school, you may want to opt for more selective schools. If not, you will most likely meet with more success if you apply to those schools that are less competitive and therefore have higher rates of admission.
  2. Retention Rate – consider the number of first year students who return for their second year. A higher retention rate suggests greater student satisfaction. It may also be indicative of the number of campus resources available to assist students as they transition from high school to college.
  3. Size of institution – if your graduating high school class numbered 100, you may or may not be attracted to an institution with 30,000 students. It can be overwhelming to walk into classes that exceed several hundred students. Do you want to know most everyone on campus or do you prefer some anonymity? Small colleges are generally thought to be less than 2,000 students, while medium size are those with student populations ranging from 2,000 to 15,00 and large institutions are those with more than 15,000 students.
  4. Student to Faculty Ratio – the average class size will determine to a great extent the access you will have to your professors. If you look forward to getting to know your professors, wish to work closely with them, or anticipate needing assistance in your courses, be mindful of this ratio.
  5. Quality Academic Department – investigate the quality of the professors in the department in which you plan to study, inquire as to opportunities for research and writing and talk with current students in the department to determine their level of satisfaction.
  6. Teaching Assistants – on large campuses, be aware that some of your courses may be taught by teaching assistants rather than professors. These “TAs” can be excellent if they are skilled instructors and know the material. However, understand that there will likely be some frustrations particularly if the TA lacks teaching experience.
  7. Curriculum – take a careful look at the courses that are available at the institutions that are of interest to you. Some programs, like engineering and nursing for example, offer very prescribed courses of study while others are more flexible. Similarly, some institutions have a much more flexible curriculum where students are allowed to take more electives or even create their own courses.
  8. Course Availability – if you plan to follow a traditional schedule by taking classes during the day, be certain that required courses are offered frequently enough for you to complete your degree in a timely manner. If it’s necessary for you to take night or weekend courses due to work or family commitments, select an institution that offers those options.
  9. Study Abroad – if you are interested in expanding your horizons by studying aboard, determine how many international travel programs are offered and which countries are included in the program. Most institutions have separate offices dedicated to study abroad programs. Call, write or visit and inquire.
  10. Graduate/Professional Schools – if you plan to attend a graduate or professional school once you obtain your undergraduate degree, determine what percentage of the graduating seniors are accepted and obtain advanced degrees. For example, if you plan to attend medical school, investigate the number of undergraduates who are accepted to medical schools.

Campus Life

  1. Location – location, location, location! This is an important consideration for most every student. If you wish to be close to home, let your comfort level determine the distance. If you like to spend time on the water, select an institution accordingly. If you don’t enjoy cold and snow, you may want to explore areas outside the Midwest and Northeast. If you plan to spend the summer months on or near campus, explore options for employment or internships in the area.
  2. Size of the institution – another important lifestyle issue! Do you want to be able to roll out of bed and get to class in a matter of minutes or does a trek across campus by foot, bus or train, appeal to you? Are you up for braving the weather when it rains and snows or do you want to be able to dart from one building to another on a smaller campus? These are issues that will impact your life each and every day so consider them carefully.
  3. Residence life – living on campus is an important aspect of college life. There are some who contend that you will learn almost as much living on campus as you will in the classroom. If you want to be fully engaged in campus life, plan to live on campus. It’s convenient, you’ll meet students with backgrounds and cultures different from your own and you’ll be exposed to a wide-range of programs and activities designed specifically for those living on campus. If this appeals to you, select an institution that requires students to live on campus or that has a high percentage who choose to do so. Determine what kind of accommodations are available…single rooms? double rooms? suites? apartments? married student housing?
  4. Cars/Parking - Inquire as to whether first year students are allowed to have cars on campus. Is campus parking sufficient? How far must you park from your residence hall? Is a parking garage available to students? What does it cost to park on campus?
  5. Meal plans – many schools offer meal plans for residential and non-residential students. Check with current students to determine if they are affordable. Do students enjoy eating on campus? Can students purchase debit cards that allow them to eat at venues across campus and in restaurants in the city? If you have special dietary needs, can they be met?
  6. Co-curricular activities – consider how you wish to spend your time out of the classroom. There will likely be hundreds of clubs, sports programs, volunteer opportunities and religious organizations that will be available to you. Sometimes larger institutions offer more activities but often times leadership opportunities come sooner to those on smaller campuses.
  7. Greek Life – sororities and fraternities are extremely popular on some campuses and non-existent on others. If you wish to be part of the Greek system, spend some time investigating Greek life on those campuses that are of interest to you. Do they accept pledges in the fall or in the spring? Do the Greeks live in their own houses? What are the costs associated with belonging to a Greek organization? What is the campus track record among those who are Greek? Consider grade point average, community service hours, etc
  8. Athletic participation – if athletics is important to you, either as a participating athlete or a fan, you may wish to consider the athletic conference at institutions of interest to you as well as team rankings and ticket availability.
  9. Safety factors – Under the Cleary Act, all institutions are required to post their safety statistics annually. Check the website at each institution of interest to determine their safety record. While visiting campuses, do you see evidence of campus security? Are there walking patrols as well as vehicles? Is there a night-time escort system? Are blue-light emergency phones located strategically on campus? Are residence halls accessible only via a key-card? What about late-night studying in the classrooms or labs? If it is allowed, are those areas patrolled routinely? Are security officers respected on campus?
  10. Employment – Many students wish to work to help defray the expense associated with a college education. Check to see if there are opportunities to work on campus. If so, are the opportunities available to those who may not be on financial aid? What is the rate of placement for positions on campus? Are there enough jobs to meet student demand? Be cautious about the number of hours you work. Remember your first job is that of being a student. Limit your work hours to no more than 15 hours per week.
  11. Career Services – If you plan to get a job immediately following graduation, determine what percentage of graduating seniors are employed upon graduation. Investigate the role of the Career Services office on campus. Does it offer job placement assistance? Are staff available to assist students prepare cover letters, review resumes, practice interview skills? How many companies hold interviews on campus each year? How many students are placed with those companies?

Support Services

  1. Support services/facilities – don’t underestimate the importance of campus facilities such as library services, medical facilities, recreational facilities, on-campus child care centers, computer labs, Internet capabilities, etc. Explore the web, talk with current students and inquire about the level of satisfaction regarding facilities while visiting campus.
  2. Special assistance - many institutions have learning centers, writing centers and/or tutoring labs. If you have a disability, is there an advocate in place to assist you as you transition to college? If you are a veteran, is there an office dedicated to providing assistance? If you are an international student, does the institution offer English as a Second Language? Make the time to learn what programs and services are available to assist you. Visit the Equal Opportunity Center, check out the availability of TRIO programs that may be available to you, meet with the staff in International Services or stop by Student Health and/or the Counseling Center to ensure that your needs can be met.

Finances

  1. Cost – cost is of concern to nearly every student and his or her family. There’s the cost of tuition as well as room and board, books and transportation. Developing a budget will be time well spent. Determine how much money is needed, how much you will contribute and how much will come from other sources such as parents, family members, grants, scholarships and loans.
  2. Financial aid – it is essential that you complete the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. There are three options you may choose from to file the application although it is recommended that you apply online. In addition, you MUST pay attention to deadlines. There are federal and state deadlines to consider as well as deadlines that may exist at each institution. You can check each institution’s website to determine the percentage of students who receive financial aid and the average amount of financial aid students receive. Investigate scholarships available through your local community as well as the institutions of interest. For additional information visit www.fafsa.com.
  3. Campus Employment – it is not unusual for students to work on campus. They find work in academic departments, in the dining rooms, the residence halls and even the grounds departments. One word of advice, be cautious about the number of hours you work. Twenty hours a week is excessive and grades are impacted when you work too much. Remember, being a student is your first priority.