We've all been told what to look for in a college all of our lives; the best ratings, the best programs, the best alumni network, the list goes on. But what is actually important to think about when looking at the place you will (hopefully) spend the next 4 years? Let me tell you, I've spent 2 whole semesters in college so I'm basically an expert in these things.
1. What kinds of people are going to this school?
We all know there are party schools and schools full of awkward sci-fi geeks but that's not really important. You should pay attention to the kinds of people you see while you're on tours. At my college, a tour group can expect to see students smiling and saying hi to them and (if we can get the chance) we would love to have a conversation with all of the prospective students about who they are, their passions, etc. Maybe you aren't looking for a school full of people that want to be your family, maybe you're looking for a more face in a crowd kind of feel, it's important to know who you will be around.
2. What are the faculty like in your intended department?
Maybe the school has 10,000 students but only 100 of them are in the department you're interested in. Does the faculty know all 100 of those students by name? Do they know their individual academic interests? Do they know more personal details about them like where they're from, what dorm they live in, who is who's best friend? What level of connection you are looking for in a department can range drastically. Recently one of my professors went across departments to create an entire major for one single student simply because he knew about her interests and felt personally responsible for her success even though he had only known her for one semester. A personalized experience such as this could be life changing.
3. How much is this actually going to cost... like seriously.
Look, we would all love to say that money doesn't matter and that you're just going to the best college you can get into no matter the cost but that's just not reality. College can put you in debt for the rest of your life if you're not careful. Look at the real life earnings people in your field are making, is the cost of this school balance out with your expected income? What if God forbid, you switch your major to something else? Will you still make ends meet?
4. What are people actually doing after graduation?
Sure 95% of this school's graduates are employed or in grad school within 2 years of graduating but what are they doing? Are they in their field? Doing what they went to school for? Are they able to pay off all that debt? Get real with the school and ask them for some alumni you can connect with.
5. Where can I go on the weekend?
Yeah living next to a lake 45 minutes from the nearest town sound like a dream but what are you going to do on the weekend? You can only go to so many dorm parties with the same 50 kids so many times before you're over it. Are there on campus venues for concerts? A nightclub? A bus that will take you to some super lit bowling alley? Trust me, even the people who swear they won't party will get bored and want to do something eventually.
6. How long will it take my mom to get here?
Maybe you want mom to be there within 2 hours of your call. Maybe you want to literally only see mom when you take a train, plane, or bus to come home on long breaks. Maybe mom is your actual best friend and you want her to be your roommate. I don't know man, you should probably have a serious sit down with yourself about how independent you want to be as an 18 year old fresh out of high school.
7. Is anyone I know going here?
Trust me, if 3 of your high school friends are going to the college you're going to, you won't be making many new friends anytime soon. Isn't college all about growing up, experiencing life on your own in a completely new environment? Maybe that's just me but I think the farther you can get from your past life, the more you can grow in college.