10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Choosing My College

Written by James Mielke
Published on January 10, 2023 · Updated on May 20, 2023

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Choosing My College

Written by James Mielke
Published on January 10, 2023 · Updated on May 20, 2023

Choosing a college that best fits your personal and academic needs is often accompanied by serious stress and anxiety. And while college does provide students with formative experiences, choosing your college is just part of the process. If you give yourself ample time when choosing a school and carefully consider certain variables, you’ll be moving into that first dorm room before you know it.

The following page reviews some critical elements that can affect the college or university you choose. From cost and housing to career services and campus life, we dive into some of the college characteristics that can help you select the best school for you. Keep reading to review some valuable considerations when choosing a college.

Cost Matters

For many students, the cost of higher education plays a significant role in determining what school they attend. Sure, some elite institutions have some serious social capital baked into their hefty tuition rates, but many of us need to consider the implications of leaving school with significant debt. As a general rule, you probably don’t want to choose a school that creates an untenable financial burden.

Additionally, expenses outside of tuition costs add up quickly. Food, housing, and entertainment costs mean that you’ll need to account for more than a school’s advertised tuition rates. The good news is that myriad financial aid options exist to help you pay for a college degree.

Everyone Changes Their Major

While it is true that changing your major multiple times can extend your undergraduate timeline, most students change their major. For many learners, the undergraduate experience acts as an introduction to a wide variety of new ideas, disciplines, and experiences—as a result, your academic and personal interests can change dramatically. 

According to Ohio State University, as many as 75% of undergraduate students change their major before graduation. College is a formative time, but that doesn’t mean you should change majors on a whim. Reach out to advisors and professors to formulate an academic plan that works best for you.

Class Sizes Small and Large

Do you want the experience of a large state university or a small liberal arts college? While each higher education institution offers its own unique set of characteristics, class size can significantly affect your academic experience. If you want a more personalized education, smaller class sizes mean a smaller student-to-instructor ratio. For some degree-seekers, taking a class alongside a hundred other students may feel challenging and impersonal.

School Culture and Campus Life

Every school has its campus and academic culture, and it’s worth considering before you enroll. If you want the experience of a large state university with Division I football, active Greek life, and a sizable student body, a small liberal arts school won’t be a great choice. If you prize small class sizes and a community of recognizable faces, a smaller college or university makes sense.

Access to clubs and student organizations can also impact your undergraduate experience. Whether academic-based or focusing on social justice causes, getting a feel for on-campus activities can help you determine what school is a good fit and provide opportunities for you to engage in campus culture and enhance your college experience.

Where Does a School Academically Excel?

Researching the academic offerings from potential schools is a practical way to weed out the institutions that won’t work for you. If you’re interested in pursuing a theatre degree, Up-state New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute probably isn’t a great choice. On the flip side, a student seeking an engineering degree wouldn’t enroll at Julliard

Most schools highlight their academic prowess, but you can also take the time to evaluate potential instructors. Professor-rating websites offer a glimpse into the classroom experience of former students. While not all reviews are fair, they can give you a general idea of what to expect in the classroom.

Recognizing that you’re likely to change your major, you may want to plan ahead and consider additional academic paths at potential schools. 

Consider Community College

If you’re not settled on an academic path and want to save money, community college is a great way to knock out general education credits at a relatively affordable price. As accredited institutions, community colleges typically provide transferable credits to many colleges and universities. 

Academic advisors at community colleges are well-versed in addressing the concerns of students transferring to four-year institutions. An effective advisor can help you craft an academic plan and walk you through the transfer process. As a bonus, you’ll have a clearer idea about academic majors and minors by the time you transfer. 

Campus Amenities and Facilities

As a college student, you’re going to spend a lot of time on campus—it’s worth considering campus amenities and facilities before you enroll. Many schools require you to live on campus your first year or two, so what are the facilities like? It’s worth considering what type of residence halls are available and how much they cost. 

Additionally, you’ll likely spend a lot of time eating on campus, so take time to review meal plans, dining halls, and on-campus restaurants. Also, consider the meal plans offered and whether or not a school adequately accommodates your dietary needs.

Student Activities

Do you want to participate in intramural sports? Social activism? Make sure your school offers student activities that coincide with your interests. These activities are a great way to both meet friends and bolster your resume. 

Many schools also offer a wide variety of student-focused activities. From movies and concerts to football games and comedy shows, these extracurricular offerings can act as an antidote to the rigors of academic life. When considering potential schools, make sure you ask about student activities, clubs, and organizations.

Career Services

Your college experience won’t last forever, and that first post-graduation job is right around the corner. In addition to providing an exceptional academic experience, the best colleges also offer students competent career services as students prepare to enter the working world. 

Whether you’re preparing to begin a career or apply to graduate school, many institutions offer comprehensive career services, including interview coaching, resume building, and one-on-one career counseling. Additionally, career advisors can help secure internships and co-ops that often lead to employment post-college.

Location Location Location

A potential school might look great on paper, but its location can significantly impact your college experience. When looking over your list of possible schools consider the following:

  • Climate—Do you prefer sunny Southern California or the vibrant foliage of autumn in Vermont? A region’s climate can affect both outdoor activities and your mental health.
  • Family—Some students may want easy access to home, while others prefer a continent between themselves and their parents. 
  • Urban VS. Rural—Students wanting access to all the amenities of urban life may struggle with a rural school, just as an outdoorsy degree-seeker could feel claustrophobic in an urban environment. 

Applying To Colleges FAQ

  • How Do I Know That a School is Right For Me?
    • Selecting a college or university is a significant choice. The best way to beat this anxiety-inducing process? Start your college search early, do some serious research, and reach out to admissions advisors with your questions. Also, prioritize the characteristics that you feel make schools a good fit for you.
  • When Should I Start Looking at Colleges?
    • It is never too early to start, and the earlier you start, the less stress you’ll feel once applications are due. If you make your college search a mindful, deliberative process, the odds are that you’ll choose a school that allows you to thrive both personally and academically. It’s worthwhile to contact admissions counselors and talk to current students—current students might give you a more honest assessment of their school.
  • What If I Can’t Afford My #1 School?
    • The good news is that students have access to many financial aid options. Alongside college loans, you can apply for scholarships and grants and enroll in a work-study program. Additionally, community college is a great way to complete general education coursework before enrolling at the school of your choice. If you have questions, reach out to financial aid advisors at your prospective schools.