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How to Choose the Right College for You

You’ve toughed out exam after exam, taken the SATs or ACTs, tracked down your letters of recommendation, polished off your college essay, and submitted your applications. After all that stress and hard work, you’re left with one more difficult task…

Waiting.

Then comes uneasiness and uncertainty, until finally you get the good news — you’ve been accepted! If you’re lucky, you’ll receive more than one acceptance letter. Now you have to decide which school you’ll entrust to take your education and career aspirations to the next level.

Choosing the right college isn’t an easy decision. It requires a lot of thought, pros-and-cons lists, and soul searching.

Are you struggling with your college selection? Consider these factors to help guide your decision.

1. Campus (and off-campus) life

You’re going to spend most of your time on the school’s campus, so naturally this is a critical factor in your decision. This is where your college visit really helps. It’s without question the best way to get a sense for the school and your comfort level there.

Here are some things that can influence your decision:

  • Dining halls (quality of food, how often they’re open, and nearby eatery options)
  • Quality and availability of on-campus housing (and parking space for commuters)
  • Types of on-campus groups and organizations
  • Athletics (varsity teams and intramurals)
  • Gymnasium and work-out facilities
  • Public transportation

City schools might lack a campus since the city itself is your campus. Would you be OK with that? Or would you prefer a traditional campus feel?

Remember to also get a sense for off-campus life. During downtime, would you be more comfortable in a city or a remote area? Are there fun things to do on the weekends? Cool hiking trails to check out or are you more into museums and clubs? And if you want to live off campus one day, don’t forget to consider those housing options, too.

2. Distance from home

College can make you homesick. Sometimes it’s nice to go home for a weekend. Are you close enough to do so? Is it within driving distance? A five- or six-hour drive could eat up too much of your weekend. Think of it this way: what time would you have to leave school on a Friday and head back on a Sunday? Meanwhile, air fare can be an expensive option — especially during holidays.

Honestly, would you rather be a short drive away from your parents’ laundry service and home-cooked meals or do you prefer some distance from the home front? Do you see college as a chance to branch out and explore on your own? College could finally give you a chance to live in a city or area where you’ve always dreamed of being, making the distance worth it. Either way, now is a good time to weigh your options.

3. School size

Are you a big personality who wants the perks of a big school with a large student body? Or do you prefer the more intimate setting of a small school?

This is a good time to consider what you want out of your college experience. On the one hand, big schools typically have more students, a diverse selection of on-campus activities, and a wide range of majors. On the other hand, your class sizes could be large, which may result in less personal attention from your professors. Plus, a big campus usually means longer walks to class.

Some people thrive in those situations; others, not so much. If you've been socially reserved in the past, going to a big school could be overwhelming. On the flip side, it could be the challenge you need to branch out. After all, college is a golden opportunity to hit the reset button on the type of person you are; it’s a great opportunity to start fresh.

On the other side of the scale, small schools typically have fewer students and a smaller campus, which is appealing if you’re looking for smaller classroom sizes and closer relationships with professors.

Again, this is where your visit really helps.

4. Your major’s program

You’re going to college to prepare yourself for the next phase of your life — the working world. That’s why it’s important to pick a school where your area of study has a strong, reputable academic program. To find out, research the qualifications of the professors in the department and check out the classrooms and equipment while you tour the campus.

Also see if the program offers opportunities for internships and co-ops in the area. These can dramatically help you expand your education beyond the classroom and give you valuable experience in your field before you graduate. Likewise, check for any campus organizations that could help add to your training. These experiences can jump-start your résumé.

Finally, don’t forget to ask about the program’s track record of graduates landing jobs in their field after graduation. That will give you a real sense of how prepared graduates are for their profession when they head out into the real world.

5. Cost

OK, this one is further down the list only because cost shouldn’t be your sole reason for picking a school. It’s a major factor, no one will dispute that. However, the cheapest option isn’t always the best option. The other factors listed up to this point will have a huge impact on how happy your college years will be and will set up your post-grad life.

With all that information still in the back of your mind, sit down with your parents or guardians to figure out what you can afford. Are you, the student, paying for most of your education? Or are your parents handling the majority of the cost? This impacts how much student debt you’ll have after graduation, which could mean delaying your move-in date to your own place or when you buy a new car.

College is expensive no matter where you go, so make sure you’re getting the best possible return on that investment. The last thing you want is to be paying off student loans for an education and college experience that wasn’t what you’d hoped for.

6. Benefits of community college

Speaking of cost, if you’re still undecided on a major, you could take classes at a community college. This option would let you take general education classes at a reduced cost so you’re not accruing lots of debt while figuring out what field you want to pursue.

At a community college, you’ll probably sacrifice amenities like living on campus, but the financial benefits may be worth it. Once you have a better idea of what you want to do (and your GPA is in good shape), you can transfer to a four-year school where you can get your degree, at a fraction of the cost.

7. School spirit

Nobody can give you a more honest assessment of a school than its students. So while you’re touring the campus, ask questions. Don’t save them all for your tour guide since they’ll probably give you a glowing, rehearsed response (if they don’t, consider it a red flag). Instead, ask free-willed students what they like and don’t like about the school. They might ease some of your concerns in their responses.

Also, do you know any alumni? Reach out for their thoughts as well. See if they have fond memories of their time there.

What to remember

Your family, friends, or teachers might have their opinions about where you should go, but at the end of the day, it’s you who has to live with the decision. You’ll be the one walking around the campus, sitting in the classrooms, and listing that school on your résumé for years to come. Do some serious soul-searching to discover what you truly want, then consider the perks, drawbacks, and what compromises you’re willing to make.

And once you make your decision, take a moment to celebrate. You’re about to take the next step of your life.

Then comes the fun part — packing!

More information

We are committed to helping you reach your potential. If you have questions about how to pay for college, call 1-888-411-0266 to speak to a Student Lending Specialist, visit us online, or stop by your nearest Citizens Bank branch.

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