Given the thousands of colleges and universities in the U.S. and the range of program options, honing in on a college can be a difficult and stressful process. Follow these tips to choose a college that will meet your needs and fulfill your academic ambitions.
1. Consider Your Objectives and Personal Needs
Are you looking for a “college experience,” or do you just want a degree to start or advance your career? Are you looking for a college education that you can complete quickly, or do you want to take some time deciding on a major and enroll in a range of courses?
Martha O’Connell, executive director of Colleges that Change Lives, recommends that students also take the time to assess their abilities and strengths, as well as weaknesses, before choosing a college. Engaging in this type of self-reflection can help set a framework for your college search.
2. Decide on a Format
Today, degree options abound, from fully online programs you can complete at home, to traditional classroom-based instruction, to hybrid formats, offering a mix of campus and online instruction.
You can significantly narrow your options if you decide which format will meet your college education needs–classroom or online, full college immersion or part-time schooling while you remain in the workforce. Your decision about format can also help you determine whether the school’s location is relevant.
3. Size Matters, but Bigger Doesn’t Mean Better
Many students find that their learning is enhanced through one-on-one interaction with teachers and fellow students, which is more likely at smaller colleges. As O’Connell notes, smaller communities can better facilitate internal exploration, an important component in any learning environment.
You don’t have to rule out large colleges and universities on these grounds, however: Wall Street Journal writer Abby McCartney recommends that you determine whether large schools create smaller communities through activities and majors, and whether professors take the time to get to know students.
4. Focus on the Fit
According to O’Connell, college is “a match to be made, not a prize to be won.” That is, choosing a college with a big name, famous professors, or highly competitive admissions won’t guarantee you the best college experience.
Visit campuses to gain first-hand knowledge about schools and determine whether you enjoy being there. Meet with students to get inside information about the school, activities, and campus life. If you are considering fully online schools, ask the school to put you in touch with current students.
5. Don’t Agonize over Finding the “Best” College
According to Professor Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College, people who strive to make the “best” choice are more likely to have regrets. People who choose what’s “good enough” tend to be more content with their decisions. Rather than spend months sweating as you wait for an admission letter from your top college, know that there are several colleges that could meet your needs.
Other factors should come into play–available majors and cost are two that may weigh into your decision. Ultimately, however, the factors that lead you to choose a college should be as unique as you are, resulting in the perfect–or good enough–match.