Class of 2020: Top 10 Tips for Choosing the Best College for You

Featured image courtesy of Caliber Mag
As May 1st approaches, this year’s seniors face the difficult decision of choosing which college to attend this fall. For the lucky seniors who have been accepted to their dream colleges and have bought out the university’s merchandise store, the decision has already been made. But for the rest of us, here are some tips on how to choose your home for the next four years.

1. Attend an admitted students event or visit campus (again)

If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to visit your potential school. The stories you’ve heard from your friends in college won’t substitute for a first-hand experience on campus. The best way to determine whether you’ll fit in socially, as well as academically, is to visit during an admitted students weekend. These events will give you a chance to talk with prospective peers and give you a feel for the student community. You’ll also get the opportunity to meet current students, learn about student-run clubs, explore campus, and sit in on classes to see how professors interact with their students. Afterwards, you can also introduce yourself to professors and ask questions about the curriculum. As a bonus, you can usually score exclusive college apparel at admitted students events that you can’t buy online (some schools like NYU Stern even set up tents specifically to give away free swag).

2. Join the accepted students Facebook group

If you don’t have a Facebook, now is the perfect time to sign up for one. Without a Facebook account, you won’t be able to interact with other accepted students online or post in these groups. Since current students and administrative officials often help moderate the group, you can rely on them to answer any questions or concerns you may have. In addition, you can also get a sense of what your potential classmates are like by reading through posts in the group. If being a member of the group becomes overwhelming (i.e. if you don’t enjoy seeing the group’s posts on your timeline every day), you can always mute notifications from the group (https://www.facebook.com/help/187225274663021).

3. Join the admitted students Facebook Roommate Search group

Like the accepted students Facebook group, the roommate search group will give you more insight into what types of students you’ll meet, and in particular, who you might dorm with next year. Usually, students will post answers to a set list of questions (for example, what’s your favorite TV show?, what three things do you want your roommate to know about you?, etc.). You can easily find someone who shares similar interests with you by reading through these posts. Of course, this group will also be helpful after you commit and you want to find a roommate you get along with before you set foot on campus.
Most colleges should have a group like this by now, but if not, feel free to make one! Without a doubt, other students are also eager to find potential roommates and get to know each other a little better.

4. Talk to current students you know (or sort of know)

The best way to truly understand what life at a specific college is like is to ask a current student—preferably someone you have mutual friends with. Current students you have some sort of connection with are more likely to share honest insights on aspects of college life that the administration may not be eager to discuss with prospective students. For example, is the general atmosphere on campus more competitive or collaborative? Is there a high rate of depression among students? An impossibly difficult workload? Grade deflation? An omnipresent party scene? Talking to students who have already lived through the joys and rigors of life on campus will give you a more complete picture of college life and a better sense of where you fit in.

5. Sign up for college newsletters (don’t worry—you can always unsubscribe later)

By reading college newsletters and email, you can catch up on current events at the school and immerse yourself in the campus culture. It’s important to be aware of what fellow students care about and what you might experience once you’re on campus. From traditions to student riots, newsletters are a great way to understand the student perspective of campus affairs. Current events on campus can also act as a common ground between students and stimulate discussion between underclassmen and upperclassmen. And just like the Facebook group notifications, if these newsletters get too overwhelming, you can always unsubscribe.

6. Consider Financial Aid

Ideally, financial status shouldn’t limit your opportunities in college decisions. However, if your parents are choosing between debt to support your budding career or student loans with rates as high as 6.84% (an improvement over the record 8.5% interest rate before the July 1st, 2015 rate change), you should consider whether that college is worth it. Consider that on average, a US college student graduates with $28,950 of debt, paid off in 10 years or more. At the end of the day, attending a less prestigious university but graduating debt-free may be more worthwhile, but make sure to talk to your parents before making a decision!

7. Consider Location

If you’re stuck between colleges in different settings, seriously consider your preferences. When I first applied to colleges in the fall, I applied to colleges in a broad range of environments, from sprawling city to near-isolated college town, believing that even if I didn’t enjoy the school setting, I could easily stick it out for four years. However, after visiting colleges like NYU and Cornell, I realized that I—a student from a suburban corner of New Jersey—wasn’t suited for city life. I enjoy the quiet peace of the suburbs with the occasional trip downtown as well as the silence of residential streets when I’m trying to sleep at night. However, I enjoyed the opportunity to explore the city while I was at NYU and I realized that the suburbs didn’t provide enough variety for me, so I decided on a blend between an urban and suburban environment. Needless to say, everyone’s preferences will vary, but make sure you heed your instincts before making your decision!

8. Read college pamphlets and emails

College pamphlets and emails can give you a good idea of what a particular college is proud of. Do they mention their world-class engineering program in every other email? If so, take note. Chances are, this college will have unique opportunities in engineering, even if you’re not an engineering major. You can also learn more about internship opportunities and read student highlights.

9. Consider statistics with a grain of salt

Consider this a mini-lesson in statistics. Data can always be manipulated, and colleges are getting more creative at inflating their numbers. Consider two hypothetical colleges, Yanford and Stale. The following graph compares their percentage of student job placement within 6 months of graduating:

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These two colleges are pretty much neck and neck, but with a little creative cropping, we can get an idea of how colleges can embellish their appearances.

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If we only consider the cropped graph, Stale University students seem much more successful than Yanford students, when in reality, they are almost equally successful in terms of job placement. Like this graph, other data can be manipulated to make a school seem much more prestigious and successful than it is. (And what is job placement anyways? Employment in a field related to a student’s major? Employment at the family window business? Employment at McDonald’s?) Be wary of college statistics and remember that prestige can be an illusion.

10. Choose the best option for you

This seems like an obvious statement, but your college decision should be about you. As adolescents, relationships sometimes cloud our judgment. Though attending the same university as your girlfriend or boyfriend may seem like the quintessential dream come true, ultimately, you should make the best decision for yourself when it comes to college. As pessimistic as it sounds, relationships can change in unpredictable ways over time; even colleges acknowledge this in their housing instructions. For instance, Columbia’s housing guidelines explicitly state that “open housing is not intended—and in fact is highly discouraged—for romantic couples.” In the unfortunate event of a breakup (which can happen before you even start college), living in the same room with an ex for a year is definitely not a desirable experience. Though attending the same university as an ex is undoubtedly more bearable than living together, you should make your college decision for yourself, rather than for your romantic interest. At the end of the day, you should be happy wherever you go. If you value learning and academics but choose to attend a college with less opportunities for your major solely because your boyfriend or girlfriend will attend, you could potentially limit your happiness as well as your growth. Fortunately, nowadays attending the same university as your S.O. isn’t necessary for maintaining a relationship; with the inception of Facebook, Skype, Snapchat, and other social media platforms in the last decade and a half, long-distance dating is easier than ever.
Statistics and all aside, whichever college you choose will hopefully be a place you can truly call “home” for the next four years. Cheers to the class of 2020 and best of luck with your decisions!


References:

http://ticas.org/posd/map-state-data-2015
https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/loans/interest-rates#older-rates
http://www.consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb/597/how-long-does-it-take-pay-federal-student-loans.html
http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2015/07/01/3-things-to-know-about-the-new-student-loan-interest-rates
http://housing.columbia.edu/room-selection/options/open-housing

 

Cathy Nie

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