What to Look For in a College

Written by  //  2012/08/27  //  College Planning, College Selection  //  Comments Off on What to Look For in a College

You already know that you will be going to college, but you are not entirely sure what criteria to use when comparing colleges. You have an "ideal" college in mind, but without some flexibility you can make yourself miserable and miss out on a choice that is right for you. Just as there is no perfect person, there is no perfect college. But, with your expectations managed, you can find a college that comes darn close to nirvana.

Public or Private

Large public universities and small private colleges seem like polar opposites and in many ways this observation is a correct one. Classes at state universities are generally larger and include seminars, with some taught by graduate assistants with hundreds of students present. At small, private colleges class sizes are generally limited with some schools capping class sizes at 15 students or fewer.

A larger college can offer a broader curriculum and more opportunities to socialize as well as a nationally recognized sports program. A small college may have few of the "extras" a public school would offer, but then you may personally know each of your professors and mostly everyone in your graduating class. If a low student-faculty ratio is important to you, then place that desire on your criteria.

Financial Aid Packages

College can certainly be expensive! But, do not let the school’s sticker price dissuade you. While private colleges are typically much more expensive than public universities, private schools generally have larger endowments and are, therefore, more generous with financial aid.

Complete your Free Application For Student Aid and review your Student Aid Report to find what your college costs will be. Apply for college scholarships and consider what funds you have saved to find out what you can afford. A college’s financial aid report may not be final — if a school wants you, it may adjust its aid package accordingly.

Academic Support

How do you measure academic support? There are several ways. College typically appoint an academic advisor to every student, but you may need additional help such as as a writing center or individualized tutoring.

Faculty members may be largely unavailable or may be required to set office hours to meet with students. Some colleges assign upper-class students to mentor freshmen students. If you have special needs, does the college provide reasonable accommodations to help you succeed?

Research and Internships

After your freshmen year of college, you may be eligible to participate in an internship. Juniors and seniors are sometimes tapped to assist with research, an opportunity some colleges may have an edge in. Learn what curriculum-related programs are available to help prepare you for your career. Paid opportunities can defray your expenses and, in some cases, offset your tuition.

Some colleges also offer cooperative work experience programs where you work part-time for an employer and receive credit. You gain work experience, complete some credits and will have a valuable addition to your resume.

Campus Safety

Every college and university should offer a safe environment. Some schools do a better job of policing their campuses, thwarting crime and working with the local police department to keep crime rates low.

When you make your campus visit, you will want to look at the school from a safety perspective. Paths between buildings should be well-lit and not obstructed by trees or shrubbery. Parking lots should be secure, patrolled and well-lit. Dorm buildings must be locked with student IDs keyed to allow only authorized people to enter same. A campus police department must be visible and active, but not belligerent. The surrounding community should be safe too. Find out about the crime rate for the college and local community.

Travel Abroad

Some colleges actively encourage students to study abroad for a semester or a year, an option that may be important to you. Find out if your school has such a program in place and what its role is in arranging foreign study. Some colleges liaise with particular colleges in one or more countries, freely exchanging students between the schools.

If you plan to study abroad, you will want to find out if credits taken elsewhere can be counted toward graduation. Without this option, you may find yourself a semester or a full year behind your graduating class. Find out if you will be housed with international students and if you will be staying with a host family. Will financial aid be available or will you need to fund your trip overseas?

Alumni Support

While every college and university prizes its students, its alumni are among its largest supporters. And one way or another every student is connected to each person that every attended that school.

A strong alumni can offer students valuable support, in fund-raising and in job contacts. Some colleges do an excellent job of connecting students with alumni in the same profession, a much needed edge when economic considerations weigh in. The stronger the alumni network the better it reflects on the college.

Final Thoughts

There are other points to consider when weighing your college choices. A high graduation rate, active clubs, health and recreation facilities, and a modern technology service can each have a profound affect on your college tenure. Keep these points in mind when you make your campus visit — meet with an admissions representative to find out more about a potential college personally.

Paul Stephen is from the highly respected Schulich School at Nipissing University, a liberal arts university dedicated to offering world class education programs and graduate studies.

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