When looking for the school that will become your home for the next four years, and your alma mater afterward, you want to concentrate on what matters most to you.
This can be really difficult to say to a 17-year-old high school student who is depending on his or her parents to help pay for their education. But I encourage you, as you begin this process to look first at the school that is right for you, not anyone else who is part of the college decision process with you. By the end of your college search when you’ve reached a decision on your college of choice, although you may have many opinionated supporters it will ultimately be a decision you’ll have to live with. So put yourself first in this process and choose for YOU!
My experience searching for a college
I remember my college search more than 20 years ago. I knew what major I wanted to study, but wasn’t sure what type of school I wanted to attend.
There are so many different college options that sometimes it can be overwhelming. However, looking at different factors that are important to you can help to shrink the list of schools that you want to attend.
I wanted to attend a smaller school as I didn’t think I would like a large atmosphere. As I visited many schools I looked at each and tried to visualize myself attending that school and what I thought it would look like. If it didn’t seem right, I kept looking.
As a teenager, I had all the answers and I didn’t think my parents knew what was best for me. Looking back on my process, my parents gave me the options to look at schools that I was interested in, while at the same time picking recommendations that they thought would be a good fit.
Toward the end of the process, I thought I knew what I wanted, but my father had me look at one more school because he had seen some information on the school that he thought I would enjoy. Because I was very independent I wasn’t keen on looking at other schools that my parents suggested, but I said I would check it out.
When I was on campus I discovered that, as much as I tried not to like the school, the perfect “fit” was right in front of me!
What should you look for in a school?
Many factors play into determining whether or not a school is the right fit for you. Since it’s such a personal decision, it would be impossible to give you a full list of all the factors to consider.
Still, it helps to have a place to start. Here are some basic considerations to get you started:
- How big is your ideal school? A small liberal arts college? Medium sized? Large university?
- How big is your ideal class size? A lower student-to-teacher ratio tends to foster a productive learning environment, with personalized feedback. Are you okay with 30 person classes? What about a 300-person lecture hall?
- How involved do I want to be? Are their expectations that I get involved right away, can I wait a semester, is it required?
- What is the community like? Is it safe? Are there things to do? Is it a party-town?
- Can I see myself being happy here? This is the most important question of all!
The college search experience is what you make of it
Being a student was such an amazing experience. Finding the right school was a fun and exhilarating milestone, and I was excited to get started! I felt like I had the world at my fingertips.
However, one of the things that I recommend to all students is to enjoy the “whole” experience that college brings, the good and the bad. I describe to families looking for a college that my college experience wasn’t perfect, but find me a place that is and I will show you a liar. The college experience is defined by what you make of it, not by what others perceive it to be.
My favorite experiences as a student were the times that I got to hang out with my friends, have pizza, play cards, and watch movies. I remember the many evenings that we stayed up late playing euchre. Sixteen years later, my friends and I still get together to play cards and reminisce about our experiences in college.
What I appreciate most about my experience is how I got there in the first place. My support system knew what I was looking for and supported me throughout my search process. Even when I didn’t want their advice, they gave me suggestions based on what I was looking for because in the end, I was the one who was going to college, and I appreciated it every day!
Whether you are the one that is searching for a college, or you are part of the college decision process, make sure your thoughts and advice are being given in a supportive manner and not as directives. By working together in the process, the student has the best chance of success and less likelihood of disappointing someone for not choosing the school that someone else thought they should.
The college search process is both exciting and scary. Make sure that you all find a way to enjoy the process of finding the perfect home for the next four years.