Harvard, Yale, Stanford, the names of the top schools are at the top of many high performing students’ college lists. These are, of course, fabulous educational institutions, but are they right for you? At what school would you thrive and learn best? Choosing your school based ranking or what family wants, can lead to regrets.
Choosing a school is one of the most important decisions students and their families will make. With careful research, consideration and guidance, you can find a college that is the right fit for you and avoid making a mistake.
When you make your college lists, make sure to consider:
1. Your Academic Goals
Before you start looking at colleges, think about your academic goals. What are you interested in and what would you like to study? Do the colleges on your list match your interests? Research the faculty, curriculum, and resources available to support your academic interests. If you want to be a computer science major, make sure that the schools you are considering offer a strong computer science program! A small liberal arts school with strong academics, may not have the breadth and depth of math and computer science courses you need.
If you are not sure what you want to study, look for colleges that offer a wide range of programs, so that you can try different courses out and see what you find interesting. Most colleges don’t require you to declare a major until sophomore year, so don’t worry if you are undecided.
2. Location and Campus Culture
Location is an essential factor to consider when choosing a college. Do you want to be located in a rural or urban setting? Think about the environment you prefer and how it might impact your college experience.
If you are nervous about being away from your family, you may want to consider a college that is close to home so that you can go home on weekends and your family can come and visit more frequently. If you are easily overwhelmed by large groups of people and loud environments, perhaps going to a smaller school in a rural or quiet suburban setting is a good fit for you.
Some schools are considered “party schools”, some are greatly invested in sports, while others have a more quiet campus atmosphere. Extracurricular activities can also be an important factor to consider. If chess is one of your great interests, you might be able to find friends more easily at a school that has a chess club.
3. Cost and Financial Aid
College can be expensive and it is essential to consider the cost of attendance. Look at the tuition, fees, room and board, and other expenses and make an informed decision about what your family can afford and what you consider good value for money. Many schools offer merit aid, scholarships and grants that can help keep the cost down but information is key. Graduating from college with large debts can be a difficult way to start off your professional career.
4. Accommodations and support for learning disabilities
If you have an IEP or 504 plan in high school and are used to certain accommodations, you will want to speak with schools’ disability offices to see what type of support you can expect. While colleges don’t have any obligation to follow IEPs or 504 plans, they may offer similar accommodations depending on what is available at that particular school.
Nearly all colleges must provide a minimum of accommodations to students with disabilities, while others go beyond what is required by law and offer more structured programs geared toward students with autism or other disabilities. It is important that you do your research before deciding if a school is the right fit for you.
Learn from the mistakes of others, in the New York Times interviews with college graduates: We Talked to 10 Graduates About Their College Regrets.