As we talk to prospective students and their families, we learn what students want, need, and are concerned about. You are probably mulling over some of the same questions right now. Choosing the right university isn’t easy. Hopefully you can use our experience and feel more prepared to make a smart choice when the time comes.
Your college experience will be defined by lots of factors, and one of the most important is the environment around you. You should consider the types of recreational and cultural activities in the area, but also think about your ability to find a job or a local internship. Will you have access to public transportation? Think about the activities and interests you already enjoy and the kind of things you would try if you could. Start by making a list of your must-haves, then research college locations online. With that information, create a list of colleges to visit during your junior and senior years in high school and leave time to explore the surrounding communities, too. Be on the lookout for virtual tours to take before you even set foot on campus.
Of course learning is important. That’s why you’re going to college, right? But, there are a lot of ways to learn. Are you a classroom learner or do you learn by doing? Are you interested in research? Are there enrichment opportunities like honors programs or societies?
There are a lot of things to consider beyond rankings, statistics and awards when you’re comparing programs among universities. Will you be able to add a minor or double major if that will help you reach your goals? Does the university invest in professional academic advisors to help you review your options and stay on track? Will you have opportunities to apply what you have learned before you even graduate?
Try to contact the department or program you’re interested in at each of your potential universities. Even better, ask if current students are available to talk with prospective students. Many universities have students ready to take your questions or provide other opportunities to connect.
Your individuality impacts your community. Sure, it may feel easier to blend in and never ask questions, but wouldn’t you rather make a mark? Your college experience should be about challenging yourself and learning as much about yourself as you learn about your major.
Look at community as an opportunity to branch out. Whether you find your community in your residence hall, in the stands of a sporting event, in a late-night study group, or even just meeting people through class, your community is a chance to build something new.
Check out what kind of communities already exist at the universities you’re considering. Maybe you’ll find groups that you’re already interested in joining or learning more about. Then during your campus visits, ask current students about their experiences. How did they find their place on campus? What kinds of groups do they recommend looking into? Do they feel welcome voicing new opinions or ideas? What kind of leadership opportunities can you find? Will the community at the university challenge you and contribute to your overall learning?
There’s a good chance that the university you choose will be the bigger than the school you’re attending now. That means you’ll be expected to take more responsibility for yourself as well as your studies. It’s important to look into your academic support options in your potential colleges.
So, what happens when you need a hand? Student-focused universities make sure there is a safety net for students and it should be more than the willingness of a professor to speak to you after class.
Remember there are other kinds of support beyond academic, too. After noting programs like tutoring, advising and career counseling, ask about enrichment programs, early warning and intervention systems, diversity and cultural groups, health and counseling programs, proactive orientations, and overall atmosphere. The university you choose shouldn’t just set you up to be successful in the classroom, but instead make sure you have the support you need for your personal health and well-being, too.
#5. Financial fit
Getting an education is a big investment. Too often students and families only consider tuition and scholarships when making a college choice. While those are two incredibly important factors, make sure you’re looking at the whole picture. We like to think of financial fit as a combination of cost, financial aid, payment strategies, and outcomes. You don’t have to have it all figured out now, but knowing where you want to be in the future may help you decide how much you want to spend on education now.
Make sure you talk to financial aid counselors at the universities you’re considering. It’s incredibly important to get in touch with financial services so that you have a complete understanding of what is possible at your university. Your official financial aid award will be determined after you have been admitted to the university.
Evaluating your financial fit should start with a calculation of tuition, fees, housing, travel costs, books and materials, and of course some fun on the side. Split financial aid into categories like need-based, merit scholarships, and any other opportunities offered by the university. Include other strategies such as college savings, parents loans, scholarships from outside organizations, and college credits earned through advanced placement programs.
#6. Admissions process
The university admissions process should be about setting students up for success once they reach campus. How can a university know if you’ll be successful if they don’t ask the right questions? It’s important to take the admissions process into consideration when shopping for universities because it can teach you a lot about the institution. Are staff available to help you make it through the process? Is the university concerned about your experiences and passions as well as your test results?
Look for an admissions process that reflects the values you want to see in a university. If you want a supportive atmosphere in college, the admissions process should feel like university staff are invested in your success from the start. If you want a community-oriented atmosphere, the process should push you to learn how you’ll add to campus. That means developing a relationship with your admissions counselor throughout the process. While the application is the university’s opportunity to learn more about you, the process leading there is your opportunity to learn more about the university.
Colorado State uses a holistic review process. We make the decision on more than GPA for applications that call for extra attention. We consider rigor of courses, student experience, and trends in grades. That way, students who had one bad test experience still receive full consideration.