Admissions season is over, and now waiting-list season has begun and the frenetic spring visits to campuses. Here are some questions to consider to help you decide which college to finally choose!
(1) Do you want to go into finance or consulting? Or, basically, anything that has a rigorous recruiting process. Going to the right school can make or break your finance or consulting career. These companies only recruit at specific schools– you probably can guess which “ivy”-covered ones– and if you are trying to enter from Michelle Community College, Middle of Nowhere, Iowa, tough luck. You are going to have to slave 10x more on top of the people who are already in Harvard slaving 24/7 for a finance or consulting career. If finance or consulting is something you are potentially interested in (more than 70%), you simply must attend a target school. If you have not gotten into a target school, go to the best public college that you were accepted to or the college that is closest to a major metropolitan area. Then proceed to never sleep again starting in your junior year of college. If you are super hardcore, freshman year it is.
I wish someone had told me about this question earlier on– though I am going to a target school– being aware of this would better inform how I spent my past semesters at college.
(2) Do you have a diverse set of interests? Curious about simply everything? Just undecided? Or are you pretty set on what you want to do? If you are undecided or curious about many things, it would be best to go to a school which is strong in all areas that you are interested in; if you’re set on pre-med, you would do better to go to a school that is geared towards getting pre-meds into medical school.
One of the best things about my school is that despite we are around 2400 students, we have over 1000 courses offered per year, and in most departments, my school is very strong.
(3) What do you want to do after college? Of course, you needn’t have a plan already, but just some hazy idea. You have to realize that most college education is going to mean absolutely zilch in the workplace. It is nice to learn some real analysis, but I am never going to be a mathematics researcher, so I probably will never touch delta-epsilon proofs ever again after this class. Same goes for that class you really want to take on Anna Karenina. The opportunities for you to bring up Tolstoy are limited.
If you really want to enter the job force, maybe it is practical to consider taking some accounting or business classes. My college does not offer those classes at all, and we often have to cross-register at other colleges to take them. Factor this into your consideration.
(4) How much money am I getting? This is a common dilemma: public university for full scholarship, or private prestigious college for no scholarship? Money matters.
Take finance for instance– if you seriously want to do finance, you could make enough money to pay off your loans in less than five years– so perhaps a prestigious target school is worth it.
However, if you want to do public service and become a social worker, given the substantially lower salaries, you might think twice before signing up for $50,000 a year. I know that it’s romantic to go a small liberal arts’ college and study with that obscure poetry professor that you love, but $200,000 loan is just enough to quash all that romance. Do your research, for there are many great public universities with amazing faculty.
(5) How large is the average class? The professor knowing your name– it matters to me. The professor teaching the bulk of class– it matters to me. I took a class at MIT last semester, and the professor did not even know our names at the end of the semester; we were a class of 15. Pathetic. This is not to say that all large universities are like that, but that was one negative experience that I had, and it is generally true that you have less contact with professors in large universities– it’s just a game of constrained optimization, where the constraints deal with the number of professors and their time. They simply do not have enough for the hundreds they see everyday.
At my college, every single professor will know your name, even if you never talk in class. The only exceptions are the large lectures with rotating professors, which I believe is only one class– however, you then split up into recitation sections with the actual professors who lecture, not a teaching assistant (TA).
If you need the personal attention, especially for motivation, you must place the smaller colleges at the top of your list. In large colleges, generally, the introduction lectures are huge, but it gets better as you move into the higher levels and specialize within your major. If you are fine with that, then a big university might suit your needs.
(6) How is student life? This is especially important if the college is not located near a major metropolitan area. If you really do go to the middle of nowhere like Dartmouth, you should make sure that the community within the college is vibrant enough so you do not pine away for other places.
My college, again, despite being small, has an amazingly vibrant community outside of academics. There is always something happening– a lecture, a party, free food for the sake of free food, concerts, etc. Visiting other similar-sized colleges makes me feel so grateful that our students are so dedicated in bringing so many events to our college campus (read and weep: for Spring Week, Macklemore is coming).
Nonetheless, you should check out the list of extracurricular clubs and activities in the colleges and if you want to join about five of the activities, then that school’s student life will probably be a good fit for you. Of course, you won’t actually do all five, but there is definitely enough to keep you interested.
Of course, there are many other factors, but from my experience so far, it boils down to quality of teaching, student life, scholarships, and what you want to do later on and how that specific college helps you toward that goal. Speaking frankly, especially if you are paying an exorbitant amount for college, quality of teaching and resources should be first-rate. While college is for meeting people, college is also for learning. Truthfully, in pretty much any college, you will meet amazing people, but not in any college will there be amazing professors who can research and teach well. Therefore, I prioritize quality of academics.
Just one more handy trick– make a spreadsheet of all of the things that are important to you, and go through your accepted colleges and try to do some research and make some notes on your list where each school stands. After you are done, you have a visual representation of what the strengths and weaknesses of each school is, right next to each other.
Another great resource is interacting with current students– go to the open campus, contact the admissions office to ask for a contact, ask your high school alums, or even, ask a nice blogger or two. I generally refrain from mentioning my college’s name and will delete any comment that says it, but I’ll give a hint– our logo is a huge W (copyrighted for several million) and our most famous alumna was the Secretary of State in President Obama’s first term. If you have any questions about my college, please fill in my form, and we can have an email correspondence!
I used to live and breathe the college game and did counselling for a year on college applications, so if you have any further questions or just want to know my opinion, like ‘what would you choose?’, please leave a comment or (anonymously) stop by ask.fm.