As a second semester senior, when I look back on my college experience I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve had the time of my life and, reluctantly, I’m beginning to realize it’s coming to an end. Even though I would never go back and choose a different school to attend, there are some things I know now that I wish I had paid more attention to when I began my college search four years ago. Although it may not have altered my decision, I believe knowing certain things about the other schools I was choosing from would have broadened my spectrum of options. Here are six things I wish I paid more attention to when choosing a college, from someone who's almost done.
This is not to say that the cost of the school I was going to choose wasn’t one of the top deciding factors. Of course, I wanted to go to a school that I could afford, but I also wanted it to be a school that I loved. What I didn’t consider, however, was how much money I was going to have to pay back in loans depending on what school I chose. I think it’s so important to attend a school that you love, but also that won’t put you under in debt once you graduate.
When I was looking at schools, I only really asked where the freshman lived and toured those types of dorms. I didn’t really consider the fact that the housing situations would be different year to year. Some school have apartments for students starting as soon as sophomore year, and some schools don’t even have on-campus housing after freshman year. I would have been more informed about each school if I had asked where most sophomores/juniors/seniors lived.
For many (like myself) I wanted to attend a school with a good social scene. However, I didn’t exactly know what I was asking when I'd say “Is this a party school?”. Freshman year was a tough adjustment for me, like many others, and I had often wished I inquired more about the non-party scene at schools as well. Thankfully, I enjoy the weekend scene at the school I attend, but it would have been a helpful thing for me to consider four years ago.
This includes everything from the food service provider to meal plan options and close off-campus restaurants/food places. When you visit a school, you usually try out the food at the dining hall. However, I never considered what I’d actually be eating 7 days a week. Of course, the pizza, pasta, burgers and French fries are good at most any school. I really should have looked into the options that the dining halls offered in regards to what I would seriously want to be eating daily. Also, there is a huge difference between a dining hall that gives you allotted “swipes” for the week, as opposed to one that runs on a “points” or “dining dollars” system. It’s really something to consider when looking at the amount of times you’ll be eating there and the food you like best. Off-campus options are great too, and it’s nice to choose a school that has a couple yummy places around that your parents can bring you to when they come visit. (HA!)
As a freshman, I really wasn’t thinking about what I was going to do once I graduated college. And honestly, I didn’t start thinking about this until junior year. However, it is important to choose a school with a helpful career services program. This office is what helps you write a resume, develop interview skills, get internships, and create networks of people for work after graduation. These people are a huge help at most schools. Career services is an important department to ask about when touring colleges, and seeing what they offer or how they have helped students in the past can weigh heavily on your decision.
The Health Center
When looking at schools, the first thing on your mind definitely isn't what you'll do if you ever get sick while you're there. However, it's important to know about the health center or health services a school offers. This includes anything from sick visits, to emergencies and mental health support. It's important to know if you'll be able to be treated on campus if you catch a cold (which you will, the campus plague is a real thing), or if you'll have to go to the doctors somewhere else. It's also helpful to know the hours they'll be open. Sometimes I wish the health center on my campus was open 24-hours like a lot of other schools. It just was't something I asked about initially.
Most schools don’t allow freshman residents to have cars on campus because they want to encourage staying there and getting used to living there. Some schools offer Zip-Cars, or something similar, that allow students to basically rent a car to leave campus for a bit. Some also offer shuttle services to stores/malls/movie theaters. I knew I would want to have my car on campus as soon as I was able to, but never considered asking where people were allowed to park or how much it cost for a parking pass. This wouldn’t really have been a “make or break” for me, but it would have been nice to know how far away from the dorms I’d have to park or how much I would have to pay.
While the main things you consider when looking at colleges (how pretty the campus is, class size, if they have your intended major or not, number of undergrads, how cute the boys are) are all very important, don’t forget to ask about these little things that could seriously impact your decision when choosing where you’ll make the hefty investment into your future. Just remember, ask plenty of questions and don't be shy when doing so. This is the next four years of your life we're talking about here!