This article is part four in our series comparing the college evaluation system used by U.S. News in comparison to ours. So far, we’ve discussed the differences between qualitative evaluation and quantitative ranking, investigated the strengths and weaknesses of both systems, and gave you the inside story on how statistics can be manipulated.
You’re currently facing one of the toughest decisions you’ve likely made in your life: which college to attend. Which college you choose not only affects the next four years of your life, but your possible job prospects and what you’ll do for your career.
The job market is continually changing, but employers will demand very different skills from their employees than what faced your parents when they graduated from college. The job market has made a shift towards needing employees with soft skills such as leadership, ability to work well with a team, ability to problem-solve creatively, and great written communication. Your college education should prepare you to thrive in the job economy of tomorrow.
We’ve prepared a list of questions for you to ask yourself to discover what type of college will fit your personality best, helping you to learn and grow to your full potential, as well as prepare you for the future job market.
This blog post is all about stirring thought and helping you to brainstorm. When you’re ready to put pen to paper, you can fill out our worksheet (coming soon) to help you discover the right school for you. The only thing you must remember: there’s no wrong answer!
When we interview schools for possible inclusion on our list, we ask them the questions we’ll discuss in this post. We want to ensure that it’s easy for students to find a college that will prepare them for the professional world and enrich them with a great educational experience.
When you’re ready to answer the questions we’ve proposed here, find a quiet space where you can think and make decisions on your own. Schedule plenty of time so that you don’t feel rushed during your brainstorm. If you don’t have to make a decision right away, we even recommend answering as many questions as you can, putting your answers away and coming back a few days later to review your answers. Sometimes the time away to think can bring more clarity as to what you truly want. Even if you’re not consciously thinking about your answers to the questions, your subconscious will be pondering over them.
On to the questions!
1. What would make me happy?
This overarching question is all about discovering what’s right for you. When answering this question, think purely about what makes you happy and what your motivations are. This isn’t about your best friend, your significant other, or your parents, it’s about you.
One of the most important questions to answer first that could quickly narrow your search for colleges is, “what size student body and class size makes you the best learner you can be?”
Some people are highly motivated on their own and thrive in the big school environment where there’s always someone new to meet. Others like the one-on-one attention of a class (or student body) that’s small enough for everyone to know everyone else’s name. Smaller classes are less intimidating for students who might feel lost as one student out of five hundred in a class. Smaller, more interactive classes have been shown to help most students learn better and be more successful.
Another thing to consider when searching for the right college for you is the location of the school. If you grew up in a small, rural town, would a school smack dab in a big city make you happy? Vice versa is also a concern. How we are raised helps to determine the things that we like and don’t like. College is a time to expand your experiences and try new things, but those challenges should make you happy, not miserable. A big city kid who finds themself in a small-town with minimal resources might adore how quaint it is or despise the lack of shopping and things to do other than study. You have to discover what’s right for you.
When choosing the college that will make you happy, you should also consider what educational programs and extracurriculars are important to you. If you already know what you want to study or what career path you want to start down, choose a school that affords the opportunities necessary to achieve those goals. If you’re a major sports fan and want to play intramural sports for fun, make sure that those options are available at the school of your choice
Instead of sports, some students might be interested in community-building projects or academic-based extra-curricular activities. You might think about if you want the challenge of honors classes. Each person is unique in their desires and each college is unique in what activities and classes are offered.
2. How does the school help me transition from high school to college?
The transition from high school to college isn’t easy for anyone. Most colleges offer some sort of orientation or freshman course that helps to ease the transition and acclimate new students to campus life and the more rigorous academic expectations of college.
Some students go to college having seen multiple siblings already make the transition and feel completely prepared. Others might have no clue what to expect socially and academically and feel completely intimidated. Freshman orientation programs can alleviate a lot of fears for students who aren’t sure what college will entail. If you’re a the first in your family to go to college or are just nervous about the academic challenges, look for a school that offers personalized guidance through a freshman orientation class or advising.
Campus resources play a major role in a student’s life during the four or more years that they’re on campus. Resources range from health services, financial aid, parking, food, library and books, housing, and academic and career advising. If there are certain resources that are important to you, make sure to research whether or not a school has or includes those services. Some things cost extra, which can be an important factor in choosing your school.
These questions on college resources and programs that help students make the transition from high school to college can’t be answered by the data provided to you by U.S. News. If you’re seeking information about a college to answer these types of questions, you’ll need the extensive information collected by Colleges of Distinction or to do your own exploring of each school’s website.
3. How is the school preparing me for my life after school?
Thinking about your next four years can feel daunting, but which college you go to extends even further than the next four years. The college you choose also affects your career and professional prospects.
All colleges offer resources and opportunities to help students to build their resumes while on campus. Depending on what you like to do and what career you want, find out what opportunities the college of your dreams offers to build your resume. This might include: study abroad, internships, community-based learning, volunteering, experiential activities, conducting research, career training and counseling, and 5-year masters programs. The four years you spend in college are your time to work with others to prepare yourself for the outside world and a career. What’s important to you?
To find out what resources are available at a college to prepare students for their career and the real world, there are a few sources you can turn to. Colleges of Distinction has built thorough and well-researched profiles of hundreds of fantastic schools that can be used to answer these questions. You might also want to look on each college’s website, reach out to college counselor’s at the college, or even try to speak with a current student or alumnus of that college.
Choosing the Right College for You
These questions may have stirred up a lot of thoughts for you, but which college you choose is an important decisions that will affect the next four years of your life or more. We want to make sure that you find the college that’s right for you.
This blog was written to get you thinking and brainstorming about what you want from college and what type of college will make you happy and successful. If you want to put those thoughts on paper, we’ve created a worksheet (coming soon) that asks these questions (and more!) to help you figure out which college is right for you. You can fill out one worksheet or one for every college that you’re interested in attending. Remember, this is your decision!