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Since I have one year of my college career under my belt, I want to start sharing more stories, advice, and lessons that I have learned so far in my journey. One of the first steps in anyone’s college career is trying find the place to call home for the next chapter of life–it’s scary, I know! But, today I am here to share my experience and help with what probably feels like the biggest decision of your life.
When I think about choosing a college to attend there are 4 major things that are important to consider: location, academics/degree program, cost, and the atmosphere.
For me, location was a huge deciding factor in my college choice. I knew I wanted to stay close to where I lived, or at least in Minnesota, which led me to the University of Minnesota. Staying close to home might not be a priority for many of you so now it’s time to think about how far from home you want to be. Even though the thought of moving across the country might seem a little daunting, this is an amazing time to do so! While it usually comes with a higher price tag, (out of state tuition, moving costs, costs to travel home, and possibly higher cost of living depending on where you go) you have the opportunity to live ANYWHERE you want! I think I was scared of all the unknowns that come with moving far away, but now I regret not looking into schools that were in different states. Basically what I’m saying is explore ALL of your options and don’t be afraid of long distance!
Once you have a general idea of where you want to go to school, think about the location of that specific school. Is it in the heart of downtown or in a more rural area? Is there public transportation or inexpensive ways to travel if needed? If your college is in an area with a lack of transportation, I would consider bringing a car if you can because I promise you will want to get off campus once in a while. Colleges in larger metropolitan areas tend to have more social activities and things to do besides hang out at the student center or library. I love that UMN is right in the heart of Minneapolis so there is a great social scene and so much to do on the weekends, but it also has lots of pretty park areas to relax in-weather permitting of course! Also, being in a large city can potentially lead to connections with many local companies and businesses that might be great for job opportunities in the future. If you are intimidated by a large campus and student body remember this little tip I got during my orientation, “You can make a big campus feel small, but it’s hard to make a small campus feel big.” Definitely tour every school you can to see if you feel comfortable with the size and location. See how long it takes to walk to different areas around campus and explore your off campus transportation options as well.
Before you fall head over heels in love with a school, make sure they have the degree you’re looking for! When I was looking at schools, I toured the University of St. Thomas and I loved everything about it, except the fact that it didn’t have a nursing program. Even though I still applied to the school, I knew I probably wouldn’t end up going there. Bigger universities tend to have a wider array of majors and minors to choose from, especially if you are looking for a very specific degree. There are also schools that tend to excel in certain areas such as business, STEM, nursing, or arts. Look into schools that have great programs for your major and a high number of graduates that are employed right out of school.
Schools that are associated with higher academics usually have a higher price tag (which I will cover next), but they also have other perks as well. These might include better faculty, more resources, exclusive connections, and a higher value associated with their graduates. Don’t rule out a school if it’s not on the “Top Colleges in the US for….”. Those lists are not necessarily accurate and might not be based on what you value in a school.
For those of you who have absolutely no idea what you want to major in–THAT IS COMPLETELY FINE. If you are undecided on a major, don’t let your friends or family convince you otherwise. This decision is for YOU and YOUR future and it’s okay if you’re not 100% certain what you want to spend the next 40+ years doing. Attending a 4 year university right out of high school isn’t always the right option for everyone. You could take a gap year to work or travel, attend a tech/trade school, or get some generals out of the way at a community college to save some money and have more time to figure out what your next step will be, whether that is a 4 year degree, or not. Don’t let societal pressures talk you into a path that you don’t want to walk.
The one thing that I have to stress about the cost of your education is not to stress about it. I know everybody has different financial situations, but coming from a family that doesn’t have a lot of money I know how overwhelming it can be to look at the price of attending a university. If money is something that you are extremely concerned about, consider taking classes at a community college before getting a 4 year degree from a university or take classes FOR FREE while you are in high school with AP/CIS classes or whatever your high school offers. By taking college courses in high school you will save hundreds or even thousands of dollars per credit (most classes are 3 or 4 credits) and tons of money in the long run. You might even be able to cut off a few semesters and graduate early from college. TIP: you can use Transferology to see if the classes you take will transfer to the college you plan on attending. I wish I would’ve known about this amazing website when I was in high school! #notsponsored
Don’t be intimidated by the very large price tag attached to private schools, they usually offer way more financial aid and scholarships than public universities, ultimately making them very comparable in price, or even cheaper. If your dream school seems way too expensive, I encourage you to apply anyways and wait to receive your financial aid package to make your final decision. There are also many ways to cover the costs of college and I’m going to create another post talking all about that complicated topic very soon! Bottom line: don’t be scared by the cost of a higher education.
This is another super important aspect of finding the perfect college, and it’s sometimes hard to gauge without visiting campus or talking to current students. First of all, it is important to find a school where you feel safe and valued. There are SO many colleges in this country that you should never be stuck in a place where you don’t feel comfortable.
Most schools have a sort of “reputation” that makes them unique. Some schools have a strong religious community while others might value athletics or be known for their party scene. Talk to graduates or current students to see what it is really like to live on campus. Despite popular reputations, most schools are very diverse and have a niche for everyone, it’s just a matter of finding the people or groups that you vibe with. Your college experience all depends on what you make of it. Putting in the effort to make friends, joining groups, and focusing on your academics will all contribute to your overall experience and satisfaction with your school!
There are obviously many other little things to consider when choosing a college, but these are just a few things to help you start your search!
I would love to hear if this helped anyone or if you have already picked a college, what helped you make your decision?