The best college for one person could be a completely different college for another person. While some may choose a school based on money, others may focus on which school will be able to give them the college experiences they thirst for.
The first thing to think about when researching schools is where your priorities are. While I recommend picking approximately three characteristics you hope the school to have (just to be safe), you can have more or less, depending on what you demand from your college experience.
Note that it’s perfectly fine for these characteristics to change and grow as you, yourself, change and grow as well. For example, back in high school when I was first researching schools, the three things I wanted most was: access to a phenomenal marine science program, a school that would allow my cat to live with me (what can I say? I’m a cat mom at heart), and access to extracurricular activities that would have an overwhelming emphasis on the beach (hello, beach volleyball and surf club)!
At that point, I had my heart set on Eckerd College, even though I ignored the fact that my bank account was screaming for me to reconsider. However, as I grew older and the real world hit me in the face like a bag of frozen butter, life took me down a route that included technical school first, and then transferring to a more appropriate school for my lifestyle.
This brings me to my first main point when picking what’s important to you…
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Always Be Realistic
It turns out, as I grew older, I found myself not wanting to join extracurricular activities at all. I also found myself in a serious relationship, so living in a dorm was pretty much out of the question. Had I chosen my desired university, I would have spent a lot of money on an experience I had fantasized about, but wasn’t actually realistic about. Although Eckerd College is a phenomenal school, it wouldn’t have given me what I truly needed rather than wanted.
Therefore, before you decide what you want, decide what you need.
It’s important to be honest. Don’t ever feel ridiculous in what you choose. This is your college experience — no one else’s.
Decide On A Distance
Although for some people, this won’t seem like an important decision, for other’s, this will be one of their top characteristics they need. No matter where you stand, it’s important to consider all possibilities when we’re talking about the rest of our lives.
I find that there are three different types of students:
- Happy in the Hometown
This group of people want to stay close to where they grew up. Home is where the heart is. It’s what we know in the world; it’s familiar. This category of people benefit from the easy transition into independence, but also keeps a security-net near. And, as an added bonus, your parents will love that you’re staying close!
2. From a Distance
This group of people want to have access to their parents and hometown, but at a bit of a distance (usually between about one to four hours away). This gives them an excuse to not go home if they don’t want to (and be able to blame it on the drive-time), but also allows them to go back for the weekend without purchasing a ticket. This is where most people I’ve met usually fall.
3. Sending a Postcard
This category is where I fell and still remain, which is obvious when I say I recently moved to South Carolina from Wisconsin. For these people, this could be because no distance seems like enough to put between themselves and their hometown, or it can be because (like me) they were following opportunities.
Let’s Talk Money
Of course, we knew this would be one of the categories we have to consider. It doesn’t matter if you’re paying your own way through college, or if you’re pulling from a trust fund — this a crucial part of everyone’s decision.
(Fun fact! Did you know that I compile a TON of scholarships every single month and send them directly to your inbox a week before I post them to this website? I also send out a reminder at the end of the month of all that have a due date coming up. I highly recommend getting in on it by just adding your email to the VIP list!)
Even if a school checks all of your boxes, if you don’t have a realistic way to pay for tuition, you don’t want to be stuck paying off your loans for twenty years, nor do you want to have to work a full-time job while in school just to avoid loans.
I cannot stress this enough: always. be. realistic.
There are a ton of amazing schools that will be cheap (relatively speaking) and still give you what you need for your college experience.
College Experiences & Culture
Believe it or not, this category will be more important to you than you even realize. You may not even know it now, but each college it different in terms of experiences it gives it’s students. For example, are you a woman and want to enter an all-woman campus? Do you want to go to a party school, or do you want a campus that’s quiet? How about a school that allows pets in the dorms? Or a campus that focuses on non-traditional students?
Even consider checking out the clubs before you even apply! One schools extracurricular activities could draw you to that one over another one.
One important thing to also take note of is the safety within the school. If you plan to live in the dorms, check if the dorms are co-ed, and whether or not you’re comfortable with possibly sharing a floor -or even a dorm- with someone of the opposite sex.
Her Survival Guide should be a community! If anyone has another category that I missed, write it in the comments to help our fellow gal!
There are so many things that are important to creating an atmosphere you not only want, but also deserve. It’s amazing that you’re taking the steps toward picking a college to enroll in! And it’s even more amazing that you are letting me join you and help you on this extraordinary experience you’re about to go through! I would love to see you become a VIP!
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