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How do you know what college best fits you?

I've had some colleges in mind that I would love to go to, but I don't seem to know which ones are the right ones to pick." What if I regret applying for this college" is a frequent question that pops into my mind. I have plenty of time to think about college, as I am a sophomore, but I don't want to regret what college I go to in the future. #college

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John’s Answer

Samiya there are many important considerations one must factor into their college search, such as majors offered, cost, location, campus size and atmosphere, and services offered to students, and online resources like these can help provide people with a better comprehensive understanding of the higher education options available to them. Another important factor to think about is financial aid possibilities; if a particular university has better scholarship or grant programs, that can definitely make certain universities more favorable. Create a list starting with the things that your college must have down to things you're willing to compromise. Do you prefer a small college versus a larger college with over 30,000 students? Are you looking for a faith-based college or a renowned school in business or engineering? Do you prefer smaller class sizes over lecture halls with more than 300 students? Should your college have sports or performing arts opportunities? Remember, you'll be attending this college for about four years; it's important to choose a school that fits your preferences and expectations.

Depending on where you live, there may be a large number of colleges to choose from. Since you'll probably be driving back and forth to school like the majority of college students, you'll want to choose a school that isn't too far away, otherwise you'll be spending a lot of your precious time in the car. However, with that being said, you shouldn't just pick a school based on its proximity to you. You want to be sure that the university you choose offers what you need. It's very important to visit different colleges, even those that might not interest you at first. Make sure to sign up for all or most of the college visits offered by your high school. You can see college campuses firsthand, and you'll get a feel for dorms, student life, and any extracurricular activities offered. In addition, create a list of questions to ask the representative or tour guide during your college visit. If you are not accepted to your top college of choice, don't take it personally. Remember, student selection for most colleges is very competitive. Having a few back-up options ensures you can still attend a school that meets your needs should your first choice fall through.

By now, you probably know what career field you want to go into — or at least have a couple ideas since this is one of the most important things to consider when choosing a school. You want to find a college that offers a program that interests you and readies you for your future occupation or future studies. A couple other things you might want to think about when choosing a college are the student-to-faculty ratio and the student services that are offered. The student-to-faculty ratio can give you an idea of how much personalized attention you might receive from your professors and has a lot to do with your individual learning style. If you need or like to have one-on-one time with your instructors, then a university with a smaller student-to-faculty ratio might be better for you. Find out if the colleges you're exploring have strong departments for your intended major. This may not matter as much if you're undecided, but you can still find out which majors are offered, or even which majors are most popular. Filling out college applications can be tedious and frustrating. Be aware of application deadlines for each college that interests you, and give yourself enough time to fill out each application carefully. Your high school counselor should be able to assist you in this process.

You already know cost is a major factor when it comes to college, there are still some things to keep in mind. One is whether or not you're an in-district student; this means you live within a certain distance of the school you're considering and will almost always pay less money to attend. In-state, but out-of-district, students usually pay a little bit more, but still considerably less than out-of-state students. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) College Navigator allows you to see and compare all these costs side by side (along with many other useful statistics) for just about every university imaginable. Figure out how much it costs to go to the colleges of your choice. Think about living expenses - will you be living at home or in dorms? Other financial information, like the cost of tuition, fees, and meal plans, can either be provided by your high school counselor or a college's website (look under admissions or finances). You can also contact a college representative for more detailed information.

Hope this is Helpful Samiya

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Samiya if you are dead set on attending a traditional university and have the financial means, it can be a rewarding experience that you'll never forget. But if you just want to get a good education and save money, you should explore community colleges in your area. Completing your general education requirements at community college has several advantages over a four-year university. You will pay much less money to attend smaller, more flexible classes that provide the same quality education. You will miss out on some aspects of “the college experience”, but you will avoid a good chunk of student debt in the process.

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Thanks so much for the thought-out answer, I really appreciate your advice and will use it! Thanks so much! Samiya M.

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Irene’s Answer

Hi Samiya,

You mentioned you have several colleges in mind but aren't sure which ones to apply to; in my opinion, perhaps you don't need to restrict yourself too much in the application phase (after taking time, finances, and stress into consideration). If you're not sure how you feel about the college, you could apply first, and if you receive an offer, turn it down later. John's post provided some great advice, so I'll just add some additional perspectives.

I think John's three points are usually the top three factors we consider when choosing colleges, but the way they are considered/ranked differs among students. For example, I prioritized location and cost in that I limited my search to in-state colleges only. Meanwhile, many of my friends went to out-of-state universities so they could receive top-grade education in a specific field. I also agree with the idea of creating and prioritizing a list of things your college must have (needs) down to things you'd like for your college to have (wants); colleges that don't provide your must-haves can be filtered to the bottom of your list. You could use the following question: how would I feel if this college didn't have ___[insert need/want]____?

When you start to think about the question, "what if I regret applying for this college?," something you could consider is that most likely no college will be a perfect fit. Sometimes we fall into the mindset that every item on our 'college wishlist' must be checked for us to love the college and have the perfect college experience; however, that's not always the case. I'll be honest, if you had told sophomore me which university I'd end up at, I wouldn't have believed you. You can also consider how the college itself makes you feel. This is where campus visits are extremely helpful. I marked off a university I was initially interested in after visiting the campus because I realized I felt out of place there. It's a great college and I have friends who go there, but it just wasn't my vibe. It's hard to determine whether you'll love a place for four years, but if you can't even imagine yourself at the college for one, maybe it's not the best fit for you.

The last suggestion I'd like to make is that, while choosing which college to go to is a big decision, there's not really a right or wrong one. Many colleges offer similar majors, programs, benefits, etc.; what's more, it's difficult to discover all of the differences between the schools. Once you enter college, I think one of the best ways to not regret your decision is to be open to opportunities, even ones that don't seem relevant to you. Many of my college highlights have come from taking notice of an unassuming flyer on the overstuffed bulletin board, tuning in when a professor promotes a program before lecture begins, or stumbling across an opportunity I'd always wanted but never hoped for while exploring one of the school's websites.

I hope my thoughts are helpful to you. Good luck!

Alone, we can do so little; together we can do so much. John Frick

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Brayden’s Answer

Hello Samiya. You ask a great question and one that is frequently asked. One of the biggest decision's of a young persons life can be where they go to school so making the right choice the first time is crucial. One of biggest mistakes that I think students make is not beginning the process early enough. The more time you give yourself to go visit schools the better idea you will regarding what you what in your school. I think the best way to approach choosing a choosing is a) having an understanding of the degree you seek b) knowing your financial standing and what college fit your budget c) what you want out of school. The last one can be a difficult question because it is quite open and often this answer will change as you get closer to your decision.
A lot of students might school a school because its close to home and its cheap, other might choose one because it was their favorite school to root for growing up. So beginning to understand what it is about the college you like is huge in making your decision. The best way to know if you simply visit as many school as you can. Large, small, close and far away from home, STEM, liberal arts etc. are all things to consider in a college. A lot of times a school will have a specific identity that is apart of the university so understanding what that identity is will also help in your decision. If you find yourself looking at school away from home you need to ask yourself if you're going to be okay with potentially not seeing family for a few months or if you okay with the weather that your college has.
Overall the decision to where you want to go to school is a big one so starting early (like you are now) will go a long way in ultimately making the correct decision. Good Luck!

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Kendall Paige’s Answer

Aloha, Samiya.

I realize you're still a few years away from college, but what an exciting time of your life to be in! The future awaits! And good on you for beginning your research early on... that will only benefit you down the road.

My college research experience from my Bachelor's was well over twenty years ago (not to date myself, ha ha!) and even for my Master's degree, that was also 12 years ago! Now, we're in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic! So both of these factors considered, I realize the college research experience is different now than how I remember it. However, all that aside, I truly found the most helpful tool for me was to visit the prospective schools I was interested in IN PERSON. That made all the difference in both my undergraduate and graduate school choice in deciding which schools were the best fit for me. Being able to visit campus in person, meet with academic staff, professors, current students, even sit in on a class, those were all significant and very influential in the final decisions that I made. Even if due to the pandemic right now those visits have to be virtual, at least it's something to put you in the right direction.

I would also encourage you, if you haven't done so already, to make a list of your "wants" and "needs" for college, the factors that are most important to you. This too will help you narrow down the school that has the most of what you're looking for. Try not to worry or stress too much... this isn't a irreversible decision... and as cliché as this sounds, trust your heart and your gut. I truly believe when you've found the right college or university for you, you'll know.

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Lauren’s Answer

Hi Samiya,
You've received some great advice thus far. Some advice I can provide based on my personal experience is creating a spreadsheet to compare colleges of interest based on factors such as potential majors you would be interested in, whether they offer activities you may be interested in (such as greek life, professional fraternities, club sports, etc.), average test scores/GPAs of accepted students, distance from home, tuition costs, housing/boarding costs, details regarding campus environment (suburban area? close to major city? rural?), as well as highlighting pros/cons based on these characteristics. I found outlining the differences between the colleges you have interest in applying to will help narrow down your list and maybe discover what schools may have more of what you are looking for. Once I narrowed down my list, I scheduled tours of campus to get a better feel of what my day to day life would be like.
I know deciding what colleges to apply to is a stressful process and I think getting a detailed spreadsheet or even a document together that highlights the key factors that would impact your decision is a great way to narrow down your list. In terms of finding the "right school", there is never a perfect school out there it's just a matter of finding a college that has an environment where you can grow and thrive. If you know anyone who attends a college you are interested in, I think it would also be beneficial to get a more informal tour of the school and have a casual conversation regarding their experiences at the school if possible.
I wish you the best on these stressful but exciting times.

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LaShunta’s Answer

I suggest that you visit a few of the colleges you are interested in so you can get a feel of the atmosphere, vibes, and the dynamic of the students currently there. Hope this helps.

LaShunta recommends the following next steps:

Schedule a campus tour.

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Davina’s Answer

This is a great question and you have received some really good recommendations thus far! One of the things that I would recommend is completing a college tour! Not only does this allow you to see the campus and housing, but it also gives you an opportunity to speak to some of the individuals that are currently attending the institution and get feedback about the school! I would also consider the location, cost, scholarship opportunities and really finding a school where you feel welcome & not just a number!

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Rosemarie’s Answer

Hello Simaya, this is a great question you asked and a important decision to be considering. When choosing a college there are a lot of things to consider such as: Location, I found that attending a college in the State you reside in saves money. What you major in also dictates the college you should be exploring as well as looking for Scholarships/Grants you can obtain to assist with tuition cost. Now as a sophomore, college is still 2 yrs away but you must remember your junior year grades are what the colleges look at. Good Luck in choosing the college

Rosemarie recommends the following next steps:

Make a list of the colleges you have interest in, read up on the program of interest, look into a tour so you can speak with students and see the campus.

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Stephanie’s Answer

Location is key for that ultimate experience. I remember going to several college tours but there was only one college that made me feel like I was right at home. It was a college town and since I did not have a car at the time it just ended up working best for me when it came to logistics. I think looking at programs and colleges online will not be the same as if you went on an actual tour of the college to get that true experience and atmosphere of the campus, as well as the people around you.

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Simeon’s Answer

Once you are able to, I would highly recommend doing a campus visit. You'll get a much better feel for if a college is a good fit if you're able to go there in person and see their facilities as well as see some of the amenities and living circumstances on campus. Often, you'll see posters and advertisements on campus that will go a long way toward filling out your understanding of what is all happening at a given college.

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Ken’s Answer

Hi Samiya,

There are some great answers above.

This is a big, if not the biggest decision for a young person. My daughter is a senior in high school. She is about to commit to a college next week.

What helped her was looking at a variety of schools to get a feel for what she liked. We looked at some schools in February of 2020 and then we drove by other schools when there were no tours going on.

We looked at schools in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions. This helped her get a feel for where in the country she wanted to be. The schools were both in cities and suburbs. This helped her figure out that she wanted to be either in a city or have access to a city. We looked at some larger schools and smaller schools. She was able to see that she wanted a school with around 10,000 to 15,000 students. She then was able to see which schools had what she was looking for and what we could afford.

I hope this helped. Best of luck.

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Fernando’s Answer

It all starts by asking yourself, what you're interested in? What are your passions in life and how can you make a career out that. By narrowing this down you then move to see what colleges offer the course or subject matter you're interested in. Always keep track of location and tuition cost , these are the big factors to keep track of when selecting college. When it comes to researching colleges many offer campus tours as well as virtual tours, as well as having counselors ready answer any questions you have. Take your time with both researching and piking a college to attend.

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Valerie’s Answer

Choosing a school is a huge decision as you will be spending the next 4 to maybe even 8 years there depending on the degree you are getting. There are a lot of things to consider when choosing a school.

Academically - does it have the major in a field you are interested in, does it have good accreditation, is there a study abroad program if that is something that interests you, is there a good alumni network you can leverage post-grad, does a school offer a scholarship to you to make it more financially appealing?

Culturally - how is the social life around campus - sororities, clubs, sports, are you interested in a big school or a small school (both have pros and cons), is a big football team important to you?, talk to other kids on campus to get a feel for their experience and if they like the school

Physically - visit lots of campuses so that you have a point of reference, what campus feels more comfortable to you during your visit? where can you picture yourself making a life for the next 4 years? does where this school's located work for you - proximity to home, weather/climate, do the housing + dining accomodations suit you, proximity to a big city

All of these are things to consider when making your decision.
I am a big believer in that when you visit, you just know. I personally went off gut instinct (and getting a scholarship didn't hurt either).

Good luck!!!