People always give the same criteria for choosing a college. I remember this from my days as a bright-eyed high school student eager to find the perfect college. Since those days long, long ago I’ve grown old and wise. And by old and wise, I mean I’m almost finished with my freshman year, and after all the mixed feelings about my experience so far at the school I finally decided to attend, I can emphasize some important, and not always obvious, criteria that every high school student should consider when choosing a college.
Freshman year is a time of strange transitions: the transition from high school to the rigorous academics of college, from curfews and rules to complete freedom, from mom’s cooking to cafeteria food. Every college helps freshman make this transition differently, and this is important to consider because how students adjust freshman year may shape the rest of their college careers.
Consider how colleges house their freshman. Do they live in freshman only dorms? Is housing suite style or traditional dorm rooms? I go to Yale, where freshman all live on “Old Campus” together, which is great because friends are always nearby, but it can also be difficult to meet upper classman. We also live in suites, which means I’ve gotten to know my suitemates really well but have had more trouble meeting other people who live close to me because we don’t have connecting hallways.
It can also be important to know how much responsibility and trust the college gives to freshman. Many freshman dorms are kept under strict supervision by RAs and security. This may be good for students who feel they need to live in a more strict, rule-based environment. At Yale, we have Freshman Counselors instead of RAs. They live near us simply to provide guidance and support, not to rummage through our rooms for illegal substances and risky behavior. I personally prefer this system, and I feel like students are a lot more responsible because of it.
Why those typical three—size, location, and cost—really do matter:
Size. After spending a year at a medium sized school, a school of just under 6,000 undergraduate students, I have to insist that size really does matter. Sometimes Yale feels small to me. I feel like I see the same faces at every activity or event I go to. Other times I feel like it’s been hard to make friends and find people with similar interests because the school is too large. Consider what size of school you will feel most comfortable in academically and socially. Do you feel your options will be limited by a small college? Are you worried you’ll feel like just another fish in the sea at a large university?
Location. I have lived in Colorado my entire life up to college, and after moving to the East Coast to go to school, I long for the mountains, the wide-open plains, and the laid back attitude of the West. You shouldn’t rule out any colleges because of geography, but do take location into consideration.
Cost. I’ve been very lucky to receive generous financial aid from Yale. I ultimately decided to attend school here because it was the most affordable option. Sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like to go to a different college, but then I remember I would’ve been eating ramen noodles three meals a day and paying off student loans for years to come in order to pay for it. I don’t think it would’ve been worth it. Make sure to discuss this important issue with your family before setting your heart on an expensive school.
Follow your gut. Choosing a college is a difficult decision, but no matter how many pros and cons lists you make and time you spend on college admissions websites, in the end it’s usually best to follow that gut feeling.
I hope these tips help. If you have any other ideas or questions, please leave a comment.