Choosing the right college has never been more important. After all, it's a big investment. There's a lot at stake.
But for a high school senior it can be a pretty overwhelming decision and oftentimes emotion ends up trumping objective judgment. For example, if a parent or older sibling went to State U, there might be pressure for you to go there as well.
But it might be the wrong place for you. You might not find what you're looking for there, and worse still you might get discouraged and give up. David Mammano, CEO and founder of Next Step Education Group, a website for prospective students, says college is a journey, so before beginning that journey try to imagine its end.
Where do you want to end up?
"Choosing a college can be overwhelming and stressful — we know that after 18 years of talking to students," Mammano said. "To get started, go online. Narrow down some choices based on where you hope to be at the end of your journey. You should also ask your school counselor for materials and resources that could be helpful."
To begin, Mammano and other experts in the field counsel high school students to think about the kind of school they want to attend; Private or public? Large or small?
A private school often has a liberal arts bent and has a small, intimate feel, even if it's a rather large institution. Public colleges and universities can be either large or small and often emphasize technical pursuits over the arts, though that's not always the case.
Being on a small campus allows you to more easily integrate into the student body and make friends. A large school often has a more diverse student body and has more resources. So the reason you are attending college is an important consideration as you make a selection.
The College Board has an online tool to help you address some of these questions.
Colleges are much more selective than they used to be. So maybe you didn't get serious academically until the middle of your junior year, meaning your grade point average (GPA) isn't what it should be. That's going to limit your options.
However, according to the College Board there are approximately 1,600 colleges – mostly community colleges – that accept almost all high school graduates. A community college just might be your best option, at least for the first year. A community college typically costs much less than a four-year school, allowing you to save money as you get your first college credits under your belt.
Cost, of course, is a major consideration when selecting a college. All schools will be expensive but some are more expensive than others. As you begin to think about where you will go to school also begin exploring sources of financial aid.
When considering student loans, look realistically at what the four-year loan total will be and whether your chosen field will pay you a salary that can comfortably make the payments.
Once a year some popular magazines issue their rankings of the best schools in the nation. While it makes for interesting reading, it's best to take these rankings with a grain of salt. Best school for whom, you should ask?
You may make a formal visit to the top schools on your list, which may provide you with a guide to show you and your parents around. That's all well and good, but if you are interested in the school, making a return trip and visiting the campus without a guide will provide a more objective view.
Reach out to the professors in the department where you will major. The professors almost always publish their email addresses and most are happy to communicate with prospective students.
One final consideration is distance from home. Most likely there are good schools within two or three hours of your home. But that can be a good thing or not, depending on what you're looking for.
Choosing the right college is more than picking a place to live for the next four years. It means finding a place where you think you can excel. In the end, choosing the right school may come down to making a list of the things that are most important to you and see how each of the colleges you’re considering measures up.