Choosing a university or a college might feel like the biggest decision you’ve ever made. The good news is that Canada, USA, UK, AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND are home to so many high-quality universities that it’s hard to go wrong. But that doesn’t make choosing between the many options any easier. To help with your decision, we asked current students what they wished they knew before selecting their school. Some of their answers were predictable; they wanted to know about a university’s cost, reputation and academic quality. But they also asked questions that get to the heart of the university experience. What is campus culture like? What are the students like? Will this university prepare me for the job market? Will I get genuine research experience? We gathered information from professors, alumni and the universities themselves to describe some of the strengths and weaknesses of universities around the world. But, most importantly, we spoke to real-life students about the good and bad of their university experience.
How to Find a College That Fits You?
Some students want to find the perfect college. The truth is, there’s no such thing. You can find many colleges at which you’ll be happy and get a great education. The college search is about exploring who you are and what you want and then finding colleges that will meet your goals.
Still, you do need to narrow down the possibilities into a manageable list. Here are steps you can take to find colleges where you will thrive.
Decide What You Want in a College
Ask yourself what’s important to you, where you want to be and who you want to become. Then you can figure out what types of colleges will allow you to reach your goals.
Here are some aspects to consider:
- Available majors and classes
- Housing options
- Available extracurricular activities
- Campus atmosphere
Also, think about what you want to accomplish in college. Do you want to train for a specific job or get a wide-ranging education? If you have a major in mind, are the colleges you’re considering strong in that area?
Keep an Open Mind
While it’s good to have some ideas in mind about what sorts of colleges will be right for you, stay open to all the possibilities at the beginning of your search.
Challenge your assumptions about what will work for you. For example, “you may not think you're able to thrive in a large institution because you come from a small high school, but ... you may actually do better in that type of setting,”
Talk to people who know you. Tell parents, teachers, relatives, family friends and your education counselor about your goals, and ask if they can suggest colleges that may be a good fit for you.
Don’t limit your search. At the start of this process, you may rule out some colleges because you think that they are too expensive or too hard to get into, but this may not be the reality. Remember that financial aid can make college more affordable and colleges look at more than just grades and test scores.
Do Your Homework
Once you have a list of schools, it’s time to do research. To learn more about the colleges, you're considering, check out college guidebooks and the colleges’ websites. Jot down your questions and get answers by:
- Talking to your education counselor
- Checking out colleges’ student blogs, if available
- Contacting college admission officials
- Asking admission officials to recommend current students or recent graduates to talk to
During your search, keep asking yourself questions about your preferences and goals. And remember that there are many good college matches for every student, and that you can be successful at many types of schools. Choosing where you want to go to college is an extremely personal — and frequently stressful — decision that teens and their families have to make.
It’s best to start this process as early as possible
Step 1: Determine what you might like to study or major in at college. Yes, many students enter college as “undecided,” and that’s fine, but if you have some idea of a career or a major, that information can help in finding colleges that offer (and even specialize) in that field.
Step 2: Develop a list of criteria you want to use to evaluate colleges.
Do you want a large university or a small college? What about costs? Here’s a list of common criteria:
- degrees offered
- size of the student population (from small at 1,000 to large at 35,000+)
- public vs. private
- costs (tuition, room and board, etc.)
- financial assistance packages
- campus resources (labs, libraries, computer access, etc.)
- graduation rate/time
- placement success/internship and co-op programs
- class size
- faculty contact/classes taught by full-time qualified faculty
- degree of pressure to excel
- safety (campus, community)
- student body (diversity, gender, etc.)
- social life (Greek organizations, sports, school spirit, etc.)
- religious affiliation/independent
- housing options (dorms, apartments, living at home)
- realistic entry expectations (based on typical student admitted)
Step 4: Gather all your resources and information about each school you’re considering. If you don’t have all the information you need on a particular college, you should consider visiting the college’s Website. And most colleges offer some sort of virtual campus tour, so you can get an early taste of the look and feel of a college from your PC.
Step 5: Use the criteria from Step 2 to narrow your list of colleges to a manageable number.
Step 6: Apply to the schools
How many schools should you apply to? Of course, this decision partly depends on your financial situation (since most colleges have application fees).
Step 8: While you’re waiting to hear back from the colleges you applied to, start searching the Web to find scholarships (if you need them).
Step 9: Make a final choice among the schools that accepted you.