As a high school senior currently involved in the college application process, the last few months have been long and complicated. At this point, you have visited several colleges, submitted applications, written essays, double-checked deadlines, and filled out enough forms to last a lifetime. For many, the final step of the process has finally arrived. If your lucky, you were accepted to a few or several colleges you applied too. Now, you must choose where you will spend the next four years of your life.
Most schools set the deadline for choosing a school for May 1st. I highly advise you to review the deadline for each school to ensure they do not have there own, earlier deadline. Regardless of when the deadline may be, the choice of where to attend college is not something to take lightly. It is a decision that will have long-lasting implications on your future, career, and overall quality of life. As you consider your options, here are five things to think about before making this critical choice.
#1 – Does the school provide the type of environment you need to succeed?
It is easy to be impressed by a sprawling campus that has beautiful buildings, new classroom technology, big-time campus events. The quality of the school is essential. However, it is not about how wonderful the campus looks or the school appears to be. It is about the environment it produces and if it is right for you. If the school is not providing what you need to be successful, then you need to ask yourself why you would go there in the first place?
To understand what exactly you need, you can ask yourself some basic questions. For example, what kind of class size are you comfortable in? If you benefit from smaller class sizes and situations that allow you to ask questions, then you should avoid the schools that offer mostly large lecture hall type classes. How easy or difficult will it be to get from class to class? If the school you are considering has your future classes located on different campuses, that is something to take note of. The key is to collect as much information about what life will be like at that school and decide if it will serve your needs.
#2 – What types of career services to offer current students and graduates?
If there are two or three colleges that you are considering that appear similar, this could be a crucial tiebreaker. While college is meant to help you grow as a person and become independent, it’s primary purpose is to prepare you for a fruitful career that will allow you to make the impact you seek. If you are going to spend four years and thousands of dollars on a school, you need to be sure they have the necessary services to help you obtain a job when you graduate.
As we have spoken about in past blog posts, it is crucial during campus tours to visit the school’s career center. This is the department that is supposed to help you find internships, craft your resume, and help connect you with employers after graduation. Does the school you are considering to offer these services? If you are unsure, connect with alumni on LinkedIn and them directly about how helpful the school was with these tasks. It would be best if you were choosing a school that will act as your partner and does everything possible to ensure you start your career off on the right foot.
#3 – What do the alumni have to say?
During this process, you have hopefully asked a lot of questions. You have inquired about various topics with your tour guide, admissions counselor, and faculty you have met along the way. While their answers are essential and can be valuable, it is crucial to gain information for those who are not currently employed by the school. It’s not that these people will give you incorrect information; it just means that they are more likely to provide you with positive answers because they work for the school.
This is where school alumni come into play. Alumni are a great resource because they used to be a student and have already gone through all of the things you are about to encounter. They will give you an honest insight into the school. This is where you ask your questions about internships, dorm rooms, food quality, class size, and anything else that is important to you. Ask about where they are in their career and the role the school played in getting there. Lastly, ask them point-blank if they could go back in time would they still choose that school. By connecting with 3-5 alumni, you can get the complete picture you seek.
#4 – What makes this college worth it?
I have spent the past few years asking college graduates about their time in college and what they would have done differently. Nearly every single graduate answers by talking about student loans. Simply put, graduates did not do enough research when it came to the loans they were signing up for. The result was massive debt waiting for these students after graduation. They were caught off guard by the considerable monthly payment they were being required to make.
I am not saying that you should not take out loans to cover the cost of college. However, if you are going to be taking out loans that impact your future, you should know precisely why you are doing. It is crucial to understand what makes this college worth the price tag. If you are deciding between a few schools, and one is considerably more expensive then the other, you owe it to yourself to find out why that is. Ask yourself, is this college worth this amount of money? If they have the major your want, a great internship program, and an amazing alumni network, then yes, it might be worth it. However, you may find that cheaper option on your list also has all of these things. If the more affordable, less known school, is going to deliver what you need to succeed, then that might be the school for you.
#5 – Am I ready to go to college?
This last question is more about internal discovery and honesty; then, it is about any particular school. The college admissions process comes on strong and basically takes over your life for several months to over a year. You get so caught up in paperwork and research that you may lose sight of what is truly important. College is the step in life that is supposed to prepare you for the real world. It may seem like the obvious next step, but that does not mean it will be an easy one.
Before you choose a college, you need to conduct some self-discovery. Are you mature enough to go away to college? Are you ready to study harder and longer than you have before? Do you know what your plans are for after college? What are you going to study, and why did you choose that area? It is okay if you do not have all the answers right now. Just be sure to take the time to answer them before you move forward into one of the most important phases of your life.
Choosing a college is a choice that will impact your quality of life for decades to come. You owe it to your future self to make a choice that is in your best interest. You also have every right to ask if a school is worthy of your time and your money. As long as you do your research, ask the right questions, and take it seriously, you will end up with a choice that will set you up for a successful college experience and real-world career.
Kyle Grappone is an educational coach helping students prepare for the next steps in life.