Choosing the right college can be an overwhelming process, especially if you're not sure where to start. You can read a hundred books, talk to dozens of people, and surf the net for possibilities, but if you don't organize your priorities ahead of time, you may find it difficult to make a decision. Deciding what you are looking for in a college before hitting the books could save you frustration in the long run.
College is a big investment, both financially and personally. The last thing you want is to sign up for classes at a college you think is right for you, only to find that it wasn't what you thought it would be. If this happens, you then have to go through the process of searching for the right college all over again, hoping that the credits you have earned thus far are transferable.
It's true that even if you go through the process of carefully analyzing your priorities, you may still find that the college you choose isn't the right fit. But, at least if you take the time to consider important factors ahead of time, you may significantly reduce the odds of this happening. So, before you jump into your college search, take a few minutes to consider (at least) the following three important factors.
Cost is usually a big factor when choosing a college. Set a realistic budget for your college education, considering course fees, room and board, books, and meal plans carefully. This will help narrow the list of colleges you consider, leaving you with a more manageable and less overwhelming list of colleges to choose from. If you plan to apply for financial aid, understand the terms of your loan, and if possible, the amount you are approved for before you begin your search.
If you already know what field you want to major in, the programs that a college offers will probably be a large factor in your decision. Depending on how broad your chosen major is, you will either have several colleges to choose from, or very few. Either way, with a major in mind, your list of college choices will probably narrow, giving you a more manageable list to work from.
If you aren't sure what field you would like to major in, but you do not want to delay your college education while you decide, you may want to consider choosing a college that offers a variety of programs. This way, when you decide on a major, you might be able to continue studying at that college, and not have to go through the process of changing schools. Another benefit to choosing a college with a variety of programs is that you can gain more exposure and insight into different fields, than if you were to choose one offering fewer programs.
Next on the list is location. Are you looking for adventure at a college across the country or internationally? Would you like the freedom of going away to college while still being within driving distance of your hometown, or would you prefer attending a college in your hometown or surrounding area? Depending on your personality, location can make a huge difference in your college experience. It's not just the distance from home that matters either; the environment of the college is equally important. If you enjoy the fast pace and multicultural uniqueness of a city, for example, then a college tucked away in a rural town may bore you, and vice versa. Since location plays a large role in your college experience as a whole, it is a good idea to take this into consideration when making your decision.
Once you have narrowed your list to a few potential colleges, it is always a good idea to pay them a visit. Get a feel for the atmosphere, speak to an admissions counselor, and tour their facilities. It's one thing to read about a college in a book, or to look at photos online, but it's another to experience the college first hand. Taking the time to visit potential colleges will probably influence your final decision.
Cost, location, and programs offered tend to be the top three deciding factors. Choosing the right college can be overwhelming and even a little intimidating. After all, your education is a big personal and financial commitment, that has the potential to greatly influence your life. By taking the time to determine your priorities, you have the power to make this potentially overwhelming experience an exciting adventure.