It many seem as if everyone you know is looking at the same schools, but .. there are thousands of 2 and 4 year colleges and universities in the US. How are you going to choose which ones to explore? Think about your high school experience and your community— do you want a college experience that is similar or are you looking for something new? Size, setting and focus sum up the main differences among schools and this is a good place to start when beginning your research.
Size: Small, medium and large schools each have distinct characteristics. Small schools typically offer greater access to faculty, small class sizes and a strong sense of community. Large universities typically offer more majors, a wider variety of extracurricular activities and clubs, research opportunities and graduate programs.
Setting: City or country? An urban school offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in a city. In fact, at some urban schools, there is no real boundary between the campus and the surrounding environment. Do you want easy access to the arts or professional sports? Are you looking for internship opportunities or a job off-campus? Part of the appeal of an urban school may be what the city has to offer. Rural schools are generally self-contained and usually offer a greater sense of community. Rural settings may allow you enjoy the outdoors. Suburban or small town schools combine a little bit of both— they tend to be self-contained but with easy access to the surrounding community.
Focus: Focus really means whether a school is considered a liberal arts, research or professional oriented school. Focus is an important consideration and the main differences in focus include: the range of majors, research opportunities, classes taught by professors versus teaching assistants or graduate students and graduate study opportunities.
There’s so much information out there to help you explore your college options.
- Start first with college guide books, such as the “Fiske Guide to Colleges”, which offer facts about basic admission requirements such as GPA, SAT and ACT ranges, course requirements, tuition, student body demographics and feedback from current students.
- Read free online college resource guides, follow college admission related blogs and read newspapers to learn more about schools and the admissions process.
- Attend college fairs in your area.
- Look through school websites which provide detailed information about a school’s student body, required curriculum, courses of study, tuition and financial aid, housing and extracurricular activities. Look for academic, athletic and extracurricular programs you’d like to find out more about. Take notes about the various programs because it’s easy to confuse details from one school to another. Also, take a look at admissions requirements.
- Take virtual tours of campuses and browse through online photo galleries to get a sense of the physical setting.
Once you’ve done some background research, talk to your parents and guidance counselor to get their input. It may be helpful to reach out to current students and also alum to ask questions and get a better feel for a school’s “personality.” College reps who visit your high school or participate in college fairs in your area are another great source of information.
After your initial fact-finding, you’ll hopefully have a better idea of the type of schools that appeal to you. Make a preliminary list of schools you’d like to research further. Is there one perfect college for you? Maybe. Most likely, though, there are many schools that would be a great fit.