Updated September 25th, 2023

Important Considerations for Choosing a College

Choosing a College


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Launching your family’s college journey can feel exciting and scary for parents and students alike.

Choosing a college may be one of the biggest decisions ahead for a young adult. Choosing somewhere to spend four years of your life deserves real consideration.

Building a solid college list is an essential step in the process. Students can lead the way by doing their homework to better understand their options. Start here.

Whether you want to go across the country, a few hours away, or attend a local college and live at home, you’ll need to do your research. Don’t just settle on a school because it’s a popular name, you know you’ll get in or you have friends who go there. 

Find a college that works for you academically, personally and financially.

Read on for our list of 15 important questions to ask when choosing a college. 

1. Do I Like the Location? 

The location of your school matters. If you go to a school out of state, you’ll typically need to pay out-of-state tuition, which is more than in-state tuition. 

Even if you are in-state, you’ll have to consider the location and travel costs. If you’re more of a city person, and you are considering a rural school, you might be in for a bit of a culture shock. Similarly, if you’re used to small towns and country life, a school in a big city may be more of a change than you want. 

Consider the distance of your college from your home as well. Can you reasonably drive there? Or do you have to fly? If you need to fly, will you have the financial resources to be able to come home when you want?

Safety is another concern. Every year, colleges and universities must share their data about crime on campus with the Department of Education. The Campus Safety and Security website provides this data and you can also compare the safety reports of multiple schools.

2. Do They Have the Major I Want? 

A major is a focused subject area that leads to a college degree. And with a degree, you can pursue jobs, career fields or advanced education. There are hundreds of majors to choose from.

Start your school search by considering places that have your major or career field of interest. Search tools like MyMajors and BigFuture are helpful. From there you can narrow your school list by gathering more intel on the department of your major for each school, to see if they really are a good fit for your needs and interests. Checkout this blog post from TheCollegeSolution for additional data points to review.

3. What Are the Admissions Standards? 

Colleges and universities consider a variety of factors in the admissions process. And each school will weigh the importance of those factors differently.

The primary admissions factors are high school grades and course rigor, and standardized test scores.

However, many schools are eliminating SAT and ACT requirements. Not only were these in-person tests canceled during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, but many schools were already reconsidering the value of the tests in predicting college student success. Across the country, many more schools are test optional or have eliminated these requirements permanently. Visit FairTest for up-to-date information.

Additional admissions factors may include extracurriculars, essays and recommendations, and more.

You’ll need to research schools individually to better understand their specific requirements and figure out how you can stand out in the admissions process. Visit CollegeSimply for an admissions comparison tool.

4. How Much Does It Cost? 

Given today’s high college costs, paying for college is a really big concern for most families. So, it’s important to understand how college pricing works today and focus on finding the best financial fit school for your situation.  

Most private universities and out-of-state schools will have higher cost of attendance than in-state schools. If you want the lowest tuition, you’ll likely find that at a public university or community college in your state. However, keep in mind that many colleges and universities, especially private ones, offer generous financial aid awards in order to attract more qualified and stand-out students to fill their freshman seats. You’ll want to better understand the net price of schools on your list, which may give you a clearer sense of what the real costs for a school will be.

Be sure you complete the FAFSA for each year of college as well as any school specific aid applications. The more of your college costs that you can pay for with grants, scholarships, and money that you or your parents have saved, the less you will have to borrow and repay for years into the future. 

5. What Will My First Year Look Like? 

Depending on the school, you may spend much, if not all, of your first year taking general education courses. These courses expose you to things like math, science, liberal arts, social sciences, language arts, and writing and are typically required of every student. 

You may end up with only one or two classes in your major, if you have one, during your first year. If you are undecided, taking a career or major exploration class can be useful in helping you decide on a major. 

When you visit the school, ask about their first-year programs.

How do they help new freshmen transition from high school to college? Are there organized activities to help you navigate the campus and college in general? What does freshman orientation entail? 

6. Do They Have the Activities or Athletics I Am Interested In? 

You’re probably familiar with the advice that you need to have extracurricular activities to list on your college application. Whether it’s sports, theater, band, or some other organized activity, there is a common belief that college admissions advisors want you to be well-rounded and involved. 

This doesn’t go away in college, though. While you may not feel the pressure to get involved in order to list it on an application, athletics and activities can help you feel engaged, help you make friends, and give you a sense of purpose on campus. 

Ask about the different sports they have available, clubs and organizations, intramural sports, campus recreation activities, etc. Getting involved can help you destress, manage your time, explore your passion, and feel engaged with the campus community.

7. How Big Are the Classes? 

Your first-year classes may be a bit bigger than some of the upper-level classes that are more specialized. Introductory courses, especially your general education classes, are typically larger. 

Large, state universities may have classes with 100+ students in them while smaller or private universities may have classes with 50 students or less. 

The faculty-to-student ratio is important to consider because if you want to get to know your instructors and have a more one-on-one relationship, large classes will make that difficult. If you learn better in smaller, more intimate environments with individualized instruction, opt for a school with a lower faculty-to-student ratio.

8. Who Teaches the Classes? 

At large state schools, classes may be taught by teaching assistants (who are often graduate students working on their doctorates) and part-time faculty. If you want to be taught by a full-time faculty member, not a graduate student or adjunct faculty, a smaller university is more likely to offer this. 

Ask about the instructors, how likely it is that you’ll be taught by full-faculty rather than teaching assistants and whether you’ll even have access to faculty who teach in the departments. In large, research-focused universities, some faculty members only teach graduate classes or only teach one or two classes per year.

9. Are There Experiential Learning Opportunities? 

Experiential learning, in simple terms, is “learning by doing.” Experiential learning gives students the opportunity to learn more about their chosen field through things like internships, clinical experiences, service learning, practicums, undergraduate research, fieldwork, study abroad, and cooperative education programs. 

By giving students these opportunities to get outside the classroom, they can experience what it’s like to work in the field and have the opportunity to reflect on those experiences. 

Some majors require this type of work, such as education, social work, or nursing, while others may have programs in place but do not require it.

If you are interested in experiential learning, ask about the resources available to you. Does the university have internship partnerships set up? Will they place you in an internship or help you find one? 

Are there travel courses or study abroad programs? Do they help you find these or set them up and provide you with financial resources to pay for them? 

These are all important questions to ask when you speak with an admissions representative or take a tour of the school.

10. What Kind of Job Placement Services Do They Offer? 

Ultimately, you are going to college to get a degree so you can get a job. You should inquire about the job placement services provided by a potential university, such as career fairs, resume writing workshops, mock interviews, and partnerships with local businesses. 

While you can’t expect your university to find a job, it is reasonable to expect that they will provide you with resources to assist you in the job search. 

11. What Housing Options Are There? 

If you are going away to school or staying local but planning to live on campus, ask about the housing options. Residence halls are typically a stop on most college tours, so you’ll be able to get a feel for what they look like and what the school has to offer.

Newer residence halls often feature en suites, kitchens, living areas, and common spaces shared by residents. Gone are the days of just small dorm rooms with shared bathrooms at the end of the hall. 

Some schools require freshmen to live on campus and have separate dorms specifically for first-year students. Be sure to learn about the housing availability and rules for freshmen, as well as how roommates are assigned. 

12. How Do I Feel About This School? 

Asking plenty of questions when you meet with an admissions representative or take a tour of the campus is important, but you should also ask yourself what you want and what you think about the school. 

You might set foot on campus and instantly know that the university is not right for you because it’s too big or too small. On the other hand, you might set foot on campus and know right away that it is where you are supposed to be. Often, your initial gut feeling is right. 

It’s easy to succumb to external pressures when choosing a college, such as where your friends are going to school, but try to think about whether you really see yourself there. 

13. What Job Opportunities Are There? 

If you plan to work while you’re going to school, you may be able to get a job on campus. Ask about potential job opportunities on campus, including work-study jobs, which help you earn money to pay for your tuition. 

From working in the fitness center to the cafeteria to university offices, or being a resident assistant or adviser (RA) in a dorm, there may be a multitude of jobs that you can do on campus. This means that you don’t have to worry about getting to work if you don’t have a car. 

14. Do They Have an Honors Program? 

Honors programs are usually designed for the students with the highest GPAs. They typically have higher standards for students and provide them with more research opportunities and more rigorous academic instruction. Many honors programs require students to complete community service and become involved with the campus as well. 

If you think that you would qualify and be interested in an honors program, ask about the benefits of participating.

15. What Makes This School Unique? 

There are literally thousands of colleges and universities in the US. Ask about what makes a particular school unique and why you should choose it over others that you are considering.

If you are comparing schools of similar size and quality, you’ll need something to tip the scales towards one school, and the answer to this question might just be it.

Important Questions to Ask When Choosing a College

While this list is lengthy, it certainly is not an exhaustive list of important questions to ask when choosing a college. You should tailor it to your specific needs and interests and add questions that are relevant to you and your family.

You can use this list to make a pros/cons list of the schools you are considering if you’re unable to come to a decision and are stuck between schools.

We can help you create a plan to fund your education as well as compare the characteristics of different colleges and universities. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you through this process. 

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