Choosing a college at 18 years of age presents a daunting challenge. For most high school students, the decision represents the most difficult one they’ve ever made. With so many choices, it’s easy to lose a few hours of sleep trying to sort it all out.
Information from the College Board shows there are approximately 4,000 private and public, two or four-year colleges and universities in the United States. Whittling that number down to a manageable few is some task. How can a high school student narrow their list so they can select the right school?
I did it by asking questions.
The questioning process wasn’t easy and didn’t produce a quick decision. However, the answers to my questions helped reduce my list to six schools. That group was subsequently lowered to three, of which I selected Cedarville University in Ohio. In retrospect, the selection proved to be the perfect choice for me.
There are many factors and dimensions of a college to consider. The following questions, focused in specific areas, will serve as a filtering mechanism to develop and narrow the list of schools based on your needs and desires.
Ask these questions when considering the physical location of the school:
1. Do I want to attend college in the United States or overseas?
2. Would I prefer college in the big city, suburbs or country?
3. In what type of climate do I want to live? (perpetually warm and sunny or a climate with discernible seasons)
4. How far away from home do I want to be?
5. Is commuting to the school an option? (Can freshman have cars?)
These questions address the organizational makeup of the school:
1. Does the school offer a 2-yr. or 4-yr. degree?
2. Would I prefer the school to be public or private? Religious or secular? Single-sex or Co-ed?
3. Does the size matter? Do I want a small (<2000), medium (2000-15,000) or large (15,000+) school?
4. Do most students live on or off campus?
Academics and Entrance Standards
The focus with these questions relates to the academic standards and the difficulty of admission:
1. Do they have the major I’m interested in?
2. Is there a large selection of majors to choose from if I’m an undeclared freshman?
3. What is the teacher to student ratio?
4. What reputation for academic excellence does the school have in the post-secondary community?
5. Are the admissions standards strict? Is it easy or hard to get in?
6. What type of SAT/ACT scores do I need to qualify for admission?
7. Can I get credit for AP exam scores, CLEP Tests or transfer of credits from another school?
8. Is there an online degree option for distance learning?
9. Are there chances for accelerated or independent study?
10. Do they offer night and evening or weekend classes for greater flexibility?
Yes, college costs money. Ask these questions focusing on how to pay for it:
1. How much is the yearly tuition, room and board? What other fees will I be responsible for?
2. Will I be receiving any money from my parents?
3. Will the cost of school force me into part-time work?
4. What scholarships or grants does the school offer?
5. Will I have to take on debt (student loans) to attend this school?
6. Are other forms of financial aid available?
Services and Activities
Let’s face it…college isn’t all about academics. These questions address the supplemental services and activities you will want in a school:
1. What extracurricular programs are offered (sports, theater, music, student government, service opportunities, etc.)?
2. Are there social organizations to join (fraternities, sororities, clubs)?
3. What resources or facilities are available on campus for studying and socializing (library, tutoring, student lounges, etc.)?
4. How does the career services center assist me with personal development and vocational placement?
5. What expectations does the school have for student behavior?
The answers to some of those questions will weigh more heavily on your decision than others. Taken as a whole though, they should help you figure out what three or four schools fit your criteria. At that point, you are ready to make a choice.
There are three final steps once you’ve narrowed the list to the finalists. No more questions need to be asked…rather there are actions to be taken.
The first task should be to visit each campus. There is something about stepping foot on campus, seeing the buildings and meeting some people that will move the decision-making needle one way or another. I took five college visits and two of them eliminated choices. One school was too big and the other too small.
Next, seek guidance. Listen to your parents and school guidance counselor. Talk to your church youth leader or the admission officers at the schools. They have the experience and knowledge to guide you into making an informed decision.
Finally, if you are a person of faith, spend time in prayer about the decision. God is in the business of giving peace about decisions to those who ask Him. And on such a big decision, you will need all the wisdom you can get.
What question(s) helped you choose the right college? Are there other factors to consider when deciding on a college? What was the final factor that pushed you towards a particular school?