Picking the right college is like trying to find a match on eHarmony. Each profile is a canvas of thinly veiled truths masked in Instagram filters to hide the potentially annoying quirks that could turn the prospective relationship south. How do you know if your college is truly the attractive photos and dynamic words portrayed on the site when underneath it is really an unemployed, 40 year old boy living in his mother’s basement?
So, how do you get to know your college without having to spend your only free night of the week on a first date with a dud? Here are four ways to save yourself from misery:
1. Program: Do not settle. You know what you want—or at least you know what you’re interested in. Whether it is an undergrad program or a graduate program, find what school caters to your interests. Perhaps you know what field of study you plan to major in, or perhaps you have absolutely no idea. For the former, discover the schools known for your area by using sites such as College Board and Top University. For the latter, determine what interests you and what majors those interests could fall into. Once you have narrowed it down, use the same sites to find a college that not only offers your major but also excels at your major. It is key to attend a college that caters to your study needs, for instance, if you are looking for a Masters in Business, are you looking for small, intimate classes and an accelerated MBA program that you can finish in a year? From a teaching credential to accelerated MBA programs to a five year architecture degree, there are different schools that provide you, the student, with the best education you can get in your field.
2. Location: The area where your college is geographically located is absolutely key. Do you want to go out of state for school? Do you need to be near the beach? Or do you need to be in a location that caters to a future internship or career? These are key questions to ask yourself. Otherwise an artsy, city hipster could end up dating a rural college when they in fact need the city life where art is prevalent in the streets, museums, and people. If possible, visit the colleges you are applying to or considering applying to. Understand not only the school’s location, but also its surrounding area.
3. Reviews: One of the most important things an applicant can do is to talk to current or former students about the college. It is critical to listen to the comments students have about their school. At the heart of it, what are their likes and dislikes? Will it be a good fit for you? Many colleges have preview weekends where applicants can visit and participate in college activities. You can sit in on classes (number 1), check out the surrounding areas (number 2), and stay with current students to learn and see the positives and negatives about the school. It will give you an opportunity to see if you fit with the school. And, if you don’t, there are other fish in the sea.
4. Money: Who pays for what? And when? If one pays for dinner, are you supposed to offer to pay for dessert? It is complicated. In looking at colleges, it is imperative to check the financial side of things. Do you they offer scholarships? Multiple scholarships? How much? What about financial aid? This aspect can be extremely overwhelming. Perhaps you found the perfect college, but they do not offer as much financial security as your second choice school. In this situation, see if your top choice school is willing to work with you and your financial situation. Determine if it is worth it to you to attend the top choice and accrue debt, or if financial security is more important to you. Are you going to resent your experiences in six months after graduation because of student loans, or are you going to regret choosing a compromise? Look at all aspects before you choose because you have to find what works for you in your relationship with your school.
Finding your compatible college can be overwhelming, but remember, you will meet the right one. You do not have to settle for an awkward and uncomfortable experience. With some research and direction you can find your college soul mate.