3 Things You Might Not Consider Before Choosing a College (But Should)
When it comes to your college search, there are certain things you’re going to think about right away: Whether you want to go to a big or small school, how much tuition you can afford, whether it offers a strong program for your desired major, and so forth.
But there are lots of other more nuanced, less obvious things it’s wise to consider before you make the consequential decision of where to spend the next four years of your life. These are factors that are often overlooked, but can have a major impact on how happy your are – or aren’t — at college.
Here, we’ll explore four important things to keep in mind during your college search that you might otherwise be overlooking.
1. How Far Away From Home You Really Want to Be
While it seems obvious to consider location first, there is more to location than simply evaluating out-of-state tuition. Let’s say your dream school is in Florida, which resides on the opposite coast from your hometown. You are excited for the adventure of exploring a new state with new perspectives and enjoying the beach year-round. You’ve secured a merit scholarship and brought your out-of-state tuition cost down. Maybe you are bringing a few independent scholarships with you to bring that cost down a few more thousand dollars. You’ve calculated the financials well, and know where you stand.
However, whatever the tuition and housing cost adds up to, your location in the country incurs hidden costs to be considered. Every holiday break inevitably holds travel costs. A flight from one coast to another is something to be planned for in advance, or paid handsomely to obtain on short notice. Lastly, you must consider the possibility of homesickness or a family emergency, and whether an emergency flight home could be budgeted. For students who are particularly family-oriented or price-conscious, a school within driving distance may be more suitable.
2. A “Major” Decision
A December 2017 National Center for Education Statistics study of 25,000 students found that nearly one-third of undergraduates changed their major at least once within three years of initial enrollment. This is not a negative reflection on the institutions or the students, this data simply illustrates the fact that students in college are still discovering their career goals and their strengths.
The takeaway from this statistic is the acknowledgement that changing majors often equates to additional time spent in college; an additional semester or year. This should be considered when choosing a school, ensuring that you can afford time beyond the standard four years if you encounter scholastic obstacles or a change of heart.
Maybe even more importantly, it’s wise to find out whether the colleges at the top of your list not only offer your intended major, but a few of the other majors you might consider. Imagine attending Hillsdale College for their emphasis on Humanities degrees until deciding that teaching is a better fit, only to discover that the school offers only minors in their education fields.
To prevent this kind of scenario, make sure that if your top college offers limited majors that you’re absolutely certain of what you want to study. If there’s any room for change, make sure the college you choose is strong in a variety of programs you’d consider.
3. Do Opportunities Knock?
There is much more to a college experience than the campus itself. Students rarely spend the entirety of the undergraduate education without utilizing some off-campus resources. For that reason, it is advisable to evaluate the city beyond campus, in a more long-term light, and consider the community surrounding your school of choice to ensure the presence of every opportunity you may possibly need.
A need for a part-time job may arise, or you may have a desire to participate in internships. What major companies exist in town, and are there job or internship opportunities available there? And could you see yourself pursuing a full-time job at any of these places after graduation?
Additionally, consider the off-campus housing availability, in addition to the cost. Students seldom spend the entirety of their undergraduate degree living on campus. What is the cost of living in the town? Will you afford to be able to live off-campus, should you so choose?
Finally, research the attractions and activities available in town, as well as the nightlife culture of the city, to see if it matches your expectations for your college experience. After all, you won’t spend all of your time studying, and it’s important that you enjoy living in the place you’ll be spending at least four years of your life.
The Bottom Line
When you get into one of your top college choices, the decision to enroll can be easily rushed. But it’s worth considering everything from cost of living to off-campus opportunities to Plan B majors before making a final decision. In many cases, you have a few months before you have to officially choose a college, so use this decision time wisely.