6 Things to Consider Before Applying to Colleges

You've made it. It's your last year of high school and you're ready to take the next step: applying to colleges. Your list of applications might start with the schools your friends are applying to, or your parents’ alma mater — and that's not the worst idea. But there are other important factors to consider before submitting your applications. Here are a few of the bigger details to help get you started.

1. How far from home are you willing to go?

When it comes to applying to college, one important thing to consider is geographic distance. Is your dream school located across the country? Are you applying to schools close to home?


If you move across the country, you may experience homesickness and have to book pricey flights to get home for the holidays. If your school is close to home and you opt to live with your parents, you may miss out on “the college experience" of living in a dorm. But that may not bother you if it means significantly cutting down your student loan bills after college.

2. Culture — aka "life on campus"

Depending on the degree path you choose, you may be returning to the same campus for a few years, so you want to make sure that you think about the culture at each school. Some schools may place a strong emphasis on academics, while others may be considered more laid back or even a “party school." Some colleges may have active student life, with lots of activities and sporting events, while others may have fewer opportunities for engagement.


You want to find a school that aligns with your goals and values. If academics are your only priority, you may be miserable at a school with a strong party scene. Conversely, if your goal is to meet a lot of people and engage in extracurricular activities, being at a school that focuses solely on academics may be a bore.


Ask yourself what you want to get out of college and what type of setting will help you thrive. Then, do your research on schools to hear reviews from other students, and make a decision accordingly.

3. All about academics

If you're lucky enough to know what major you want to pursue at this point, it's key to think about the academic opportunities you'll have at each school. Some schools may have great liberal arts programs, whereas others may be focused on science and math. Some colleges may have a business school, and others may not. You want to find a school that aligns with your educational pursuits and goals. Additionally, some schools may have professors who are experts in the field you want to get into. Going to that school could give you a chance to study under them.


As part of your college research, consider taking a tour of the campus and mention your interest in a particular department. You may be able to make connections with current students who could give you their perspective on the facilities, professors and campus life. You could also ask a high school guidance counselor if there any recent graduates that are attending your college(s) of choice.

4. The weather

The weather can play a role in our happiness and productivity. When considering colleges, think about how the weather may affect your experience. If you're used to sun and heat, moving somewhere with lots of rain year-round, such as the Pacific Northwest, may be tough. Dealing with snow may require a new wardrobe — and a new tolerance for the cold.

5. Career opportunities

When you're applying to colleges, it's easy to think that you're just planning for the next four years of your life. But that's not true. You're planning for the rest of your life. What will your life be like after college?


You want to consider how choosing a certain college may affect your post-college job search. Are there job opportunities for previous graduates in your field? Does the school have a strong alumni network? Do employers recruit directly from the school?

6. Cost

The cost of tuition can vary from school to school — and significantly — depending on whether the school is public or private and, if it's public, whether you qualify for in-state tuition. Look at the overall cost of tuition and consider how much it will cost you and your family. You may receive a combination of scholarships, grants, and student loans. An affordable school can make your financial aid go further and can help you graduate with less debt, or none at all. If you do end up taking on student loans, consider your potential starting salary after graduation and how long it may take you to pay back what you borrowed.

Final word

As you start to apply for colleges and set the trajectory for the next four years of your life, it's important to consider the six factors above. You want to find a college that allows you to thrive — now and in the future.


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