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It is a very exciting time of year for parents of high school seniors. Graduation is finally in view, and senioritis is in full effect. It is also a time of great stress for parents and their college-bound children. In April, colleges expect you to commit, put down a deposit, and begin obtaining housing, financial aid, and confirming your major.
The internet is full of advice for parents about the best ways to pick a college or university. It is, after all, a hugely important decision that can have lasting benefits and consequences. Parents usually focus on the prestige of the college. I hear the advice “Go to the best school you got into” all the time. Sometimes the very real issue of the cost of tuition and proximity to home are the most important factors. I rarely hear “You should go to the school that best fits you” as family advice.
There are many things to consider when helping your child decide which college or university is right for them. All of the above advice is valid and important, but it is focused on the perspective of adults and professionals. It is rare to find advice from college students who are, after all, real experts. Toward that objective, I interviewed a current college student to get a very important perspective.
Drew Stolberg is a 20-year-old college sophomore at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is from Southern California and attended public high school. He applied to colleges within easy driving distance of his home and some that required airplane travel. He applied to and was accepted to various public and private colleges, with some offering a lot of financial aid and some charging exorbitant tuition.
He visited most of the schools he was admitted to and considered many of the abovementioned factors. He developed a spreadsheet with dozens of variables which he researched the answer to (average time to graduation, school ranking, the reputation of the major, etc.) and some variables that were hard to quantify (is this too far from home, do I feel safe here, do I like the surrounding town, etc.).
Drew’s Words About Picking the Right College
Picking what college you want to attend is an extremely difficult decision that can feel overwhelming. This doesn’t have to be the case. By identifying what you consider the most important factors, you can narrow down the options and make the decision much easier. The following, in no particular order, are what I believe to be five of the most important things to consider when choosing what college is the best fit for you.
- Major support. Going to a school with a good reputation for your major may be more important than the school’s overall reputation. Some colleges have a great name, but that does not guarantee that the program of interest to you will be high quality. For those of you that applied without selecting a major, it is important to find out how easy or difficult it is to change majors at the schools you are considering.
- Life satisfaction. When deciding where to go to college, you are not just deciding which school you will attend. You are deciding where you will be living for the next few years. No matter how much you may love a university, being unhappy with where you live can drain your passion and motivation to succeed. Even if it means going to a lower-ranked school, living somewhere where you feel safe and can thrive will bring you far greater academic and personal success.
- Location. If you are choosing between two schools identical in every aspect but the distance from home, would you choose the one that is close or far away? You should try to answer this for yourself because people go to college with vastly different intentions. Some students have extremely strong ties to their family and hometown and would much prefer a college where it would be easy to go back and forth from home. On the other hand, some people may view going to college as a way to get away and experience life in a completely new area. For these students, living in a new place and experiencing unfamiliar things may suit their needs far better.
- Demographics. Related to some of the other suggestions, the demographics of the school and surrounding area should be considered when deciding which school to choose. This includes but is not limited to, things like the political environment, race, and ethnicity. Regardless of your political stance, living somewhere where nobody shares your beliefs can be uncomfortable and create difficulties in making friends and connecting with your peers. A similar story can be told regarding race and ethnicity. Being at a school where the student body doesn’t look like you or share your value system can be exactly what you are looking for or make you feel lonely. Luckily, information regarding most of these issues can be found with a simple internet search.
With the cost of just about everything being as high as it is, things like tuition and cost of living are extremely important to take into account when making your decision. Schools with high tuition located in a place with a high cost of living can be inaccessible to a large portion of the population, even with financial aid and scholarships. It is significantly more difficult to balance school, social life, and the full college experience if you spend all your free time working and worrying about money.
Typically, attending college in-state is much cheaper than attending school in another state. Community college is a great alternative that is much more affordable while allowing you to focus on your grades, giving you a better chance to get accepted into your dream schools, and offering scholarships that might make it even more affordable. The end result is the same whether you attended a university for all four years or only two years after transferring from a community college. This is a path that I wish I had given more consideration to when I had to make this decision.
My final piece of advice is that you will probably just know which school fits you best if you can visit it. Although these five factors are all important, the influence of each is different from person to person. If you are talking to a friend about choosing a college, you will probably look for different things and have different concerns. You make this decision based on what you are looking for, so don’t make your choice solely based on what your parents, friends, or teachers want you to do.
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