Once you have decided that higher education is the next step after receiving your high school diploma, the critical process of college exploration begins. It is important to be sure to choose the institution that best suits you and will provide the type of scholarship you want.
To begin this process, it is recommended to organize your preferences and research what type of environment you need in order to excel academically1. It is helpful to construct a list ranking what conditions are important to you. Initially, searching for colleges/universities may seem overwhelming because there are so many institutions to choose from. However, you can begin narrowing your search according to the institution’s distinguishing characteristics and its relationship to your level of comfort2.
For instance, you may want to consider the following features3:
- Type. There are various ways in which higher education institutions differ. Fundamentally, students have the option of earning a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year university/college, or alternatively, participating in a 2-year program (typically resulting in an associate degree). When considering the type of institution that you prefer to attend, it is suggested to have a prospective course of study in mind. Once you have an idea on what you are interested in studying, you are then able to consider institutional rankings within your potential field (e.g. if you are interested in pursuing engineering or nursing, you should research reputable schools that offer those programs). Equally significant, find a university that fits your personality. Each institution carries different characteristics. For instance, some colleges are women-only, more political active, religious, or even pay more attention to athletics. It may even be more important for you to attend a school with a strong alumni network to potentially facilitate internship or job opportunities.
- Program of study. It is important to look at the different majors or programs of study offered at different institutions, keeping in mind that you may not be exactly sure about what you want to study in college just yet. Take a look at the website What Can I Do With This Major to learn more about the different career paths that various college majors can lead to.
- Size. Colleges and universities can range from very small (e.g. Bowie State University with less than 5,000 undergraduates) to remarkably large (e.g. University of Michigan with more than 20,000 undergraduates). Some students are more comfortable with a smaller, more intimate college setting and others thrive being a part of a much larger community. It’s worth recognizing your comfort zone in making such decisions to avoid issues when it comes to academics.
- Location. Considering setting/environment is significant when choosing a college/university because its campus is generally where the majority of your learning will take place. It is your responsibility to determine if you perform better academically within a rural or urban environment. For example, if you are from a small town, choosing a school located in a bustling city may cause a bit of a shock. You should also contemplate how comfortable you are with living away from family (if you opt for on-campus housing). Some students find it more appealing to maintain geographic proximity to their relatives while others may be indifferent to distance from their hometown.
- Financial Aid Packages. An undeniably large factor about attending a college/university is being able to afford it. It is wise to research how your top choices award financial aid relative to its cost of attendance. Recognizing these numbers will assist you when searching for scholarships. Some schools actually offer scholarships based on merit and/or need– thus further inquiry may be prove beneficial.
With all things considered, although a large component of the college exploration process comes from research and requires a great deal of self-motivation, there are a number of other resources that remain available to you. After meticulously reviewing mailings and websites, you also have the option of referring to your high school counselors and/or making visits to the college center (if available). Once you have a list of your top choices, begin visiting schools. The college exploration process is long, yet rewarding. It requires a great deal of time and effort so avoid procrastinating to ensure you are confident in the colleges/universities you finally decide to apply to.
1 Katy Hopkins, 10 steps to picking the right college, http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/04/04/10-ste… (April 4, 2011).
2 Jenna Johnson, What types of colleges fit your personality and goals?, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/campus-overload/post/what-types-of-c… (March 28, 2012).
3 Peterson’s, Colleges and Universities: Choosing the Right Fit, http://www.petersons.com/college-search/colleges-universities-choosing-f… (January 28, 2013).