All of those standardized tests, countless hours of studying, and grueling applications have all paid off. Now, you have the freedom to decide which lucky university will welcome you as a student for the next few years!
It’s time to begin your research into your schools of choice to determine which one suits you and your future career aspirations best.
And while everyone’s higher education needs are different, the 10 following tips are important factors that should be integral steps to choosing a university.
Looking into Available Majors and Minors
When you’re first applying to and looking at colleges, you may have no idea what major you want to study. Or, you may have a specific major in mind that you have been set on for years. Either way, you will likely end up changing your major.
A study by the National Center of Education Statistics found that at least one-third of students who enter college with a declared major will change it at least once. Take into account the students who begin university without a major, and that number becomes even higher.
This makes it important to choose a university that doesn’t just have a great reputation for the major you originally choose, but for its programs in general. If you decide on a school that has an excellent pre-med program, but all of its other academic options are sub-par, you are potentially limiting yourself
Choosing a University Near a City
Attending college is an exciting time, and you will likely be content to stay on and near your campus for the first year. By the second or third year though, you may want to experience life as a young adult outside of a college setting.
Choosing a university within or near a city will give you the options to familiarize yourself with urban life while still in college – giving you the best of both worlds. You’ll be able to meet people of all ages, get new cultural experiences, try your hand at public transportation, and find hidden local spots.
More importantly, being near a city will give you the chance to develop your career as an undergrad. While university clubs and pre-career organizations are great to add to your resume, nothing beats real-world experience. During your first and second years, you can research opportunities in the city near you. By the time you reach your third year, you will likely be able to find an internship or even a job opportunity.
Evaluating the Costs
Alright, we weren’t going to skip this one. Cost is one of the single most important factors for students in their college decision process. As you’re well aware, the cost of college doesn’t just include tuition – you have to take into account housing, travel expenses, and cost of living.
What you may not be aware of, though, are potential scholarships, grants, and work-study programs available to you. If you have a school in your sights with a price tag that’s out of your reach, don’t automatically discount it. Do some digging into the school’s financial opportunities. Many schools have financial advisors or other points of contact for you to map out the expenses of attending their schools.
Discovering the Nightlife
Doing well in college is about more than just good grades on your transcript. Going out in your free time will help you to learn more about yourself, what you enjoy doing, and where your social skills need improvement. All of these experiences will help you in your career and your life.
Plus, you’ll need a break from the hard work you’ll be putting in. One of the keys to success in college is balance. So, while you’re checking out the campus, explore the local restaurants, bars, and social events that happen nearby.
Researching the Alumni Network
College isn’t just a four-year experience. It’s a lifelong source of friends, connections, and even job opportunities. And schools with extensive alumni networks will give you advantages that go far beyond your time at school.
A study by Linkedin shows that 85% of jobs are filled based on networking – companies often will hire someone that has at least one mutual connection. So the bigger your school’s alumni network, the better chance you have at gaining job opportunities.
When looking into colleges, do some research on each one’s social media pages. Typically, you can get a good idea of a school’s alumni network based on its number of followers and engagements on posts
Schools will often feature “thank-yous” to donors and alumni on their websites as well. Take a look to see what the alumni network is contributing to the school. If you notice that alumni are funding new departments, research positions, and new equipment, that university likely has a strong web of people who would be more than happy to help a fellow graduate.
Counting the Number of Green Spaces
For much of your time in college, you will be sitting in a classroom, staring at a computer screen, and studying in the library. You deserve a chance to get outside and relax at your convenience.
Take note of a campus’s green space. Are there lots of picnic tables, benches, and grassy places to sit? How well-maintained are campus lawns? While the number of parks and “green zones” may not be on your radar, think about how helpful it would be to relax outside after you’re feeling the pressure of a heavy course load or stressful day.
Connecting With Career Services
So, you’re interested in a certain university. What’s that school’s retention rate of students? What about the employment rate six months post-graduating? And students’ average starting salary? Do graduates get accepted into competitive graduate programs?
Whatever your direction is after you graduate, having the peace of mind that your university produces students who find successful jobs or enter competitive graduate programs will make your college experience so much more enjoyable.
During the tour of a university, make sure to find out where the career services center is and stop by. Even if you don’t make an appointment with an advisor, you will get a general idea of the resources that the school has. You can see firsthand how many people are on staff, and what they can do for their students. You could even ask an undergrad about how the career services are helping to reach their goals.
Finding out About National Societies and Honors
Many colleges are affiliated with societies, honors programs, or other similar organizations that recognize their students’ academic achievements on a national level. And while many nationally acclaimed student societies are designed for upperclassman, some specifically tailor their applications to newer university students.
For example, the national society of collegiate scholars is open to first- and second-year college students to join who are among the top 20% of their class. Benefits include access to exclusive awards and programs, like Future Docs Abroad and Semester at Sea.
Find out about your potential college choice’s partnership with national student organizations. In many cases, official chapters need to be established at a university for its students to be eligible to join.
Tasting a College Meal
Taking on college is no small feat – you’ll be living away from home, adjusting to all of the new people around you, and experimenting with new clubs and academic opportunities. You’ll need the proper fuel to keep you healthy and engaged on campus.
Although you may be cooking for yourself quite often, chances are, you’ll also frequently stop by campus dining. As silly as it may sound, go to a university’s dining hall and try out as much food as possible before you commit to going there. Better yet, go to that university’s lowest-rated dining hall on campus to decide for yourself just how good the campus food is.
Learning About Study Abroad Opportunities
Always wanted to see the world? College is a great time to do so. You’re young, passionate, and eager to learn.
Get your hands on some study abroad information before you make your final choice. Most schools offer plenty of study abroad opportunities, but with some caveats. Some majors have limited space, while others practically invited students to participate. You may only be able to study abroad during certain semesters, as major-specific courses could require you to be taking classes on campus.
Don’t forget to ask which countries are open to study abroad programs. If you’ve always dreamed of being in Australia, you should get your chance to go!
You have a lot of choices ahead of you, but they are some of the most exciting ones of your life. Choosing a university is just one of the steps to becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be – and it’s time to get started!
Trust that everything will turn out how it is supposed to. No matter where you end up, if you make the most of your experience, you will be surprised at all of the doors that life opens up for you.