5 Questions to Ask When Choosing a College

Financial and General College Advice for Students and Families

The decision on where to go to college is one of the biggest decisions of a young person’s life. Parents, being there for your kids and giving advice is important. However, simply forcing your child to go to your Alma Mater is generally a very bad idea. For students deciding, consider your options, and don’t simply go to schools based on reputation alone. I know way too many people who go to a school their freshman year and end up hating it and transfer. Before you choose though, you should have a list of places you’ve gotten accepted to. If you are still completing admissions tasks, then these important considerations will come later. However, for those who have been accepted to multiple colleges, I’ve compiled a short list of questions students (and to a lesser extent, parents) should ask themselves when choosing a college.

1. Can I afford it?

I’m starting with this one because I feel it’s the most important. If you can’t really afford the college, maybe you should rethink where you are going. I have spoken before about selecting a major in college. When selecting majors, you need to consider the future. With colleges, it’s the same scenario. If the college you want to attend is $40,000 a year, how much will have to be taken out in loans? Are you eligible for FAFSA aid? If you take loans out, will the major you select get you a job that will pay enough so you can pay loans off as soon as you graduate? How much is housing on campus? Will you spend less or more each year on housing and tuition? What scholarships have been offered? For parents, how much can you afford to give your child in terms of assistance? Do you have any other children in college or going to be in college in coming years? There are many angles to analyze finances from. The most important point is that you need to be prepared. Far too many people go into a college that is significantly out of their price range, and end up regretting it when the loan officers are beating down their doors 5 years later. I know many people who end up going to less expensive schools in order to save money, end they end up considering it to be the best decision they ever made. I myself considered some extremely expensive schools before going to OSU because of the cheaper tuition. My experience has been great, and I couldn’t imagine myself at any other University. In a perfect world, it would be great if anyone could go to their dream school and not worry about money. Sadly, this isn’t the case, so students and parents need to consider the financial implications of all the schools.

2. Are we there yet?

Distance is a big deal to many people. Most parents obviously like to have their children closer rather than further away. Many children want to be as far away from their parents as possible. Add in the fact that many students have a high school sweetheart and the prospect of dealing with a long distance relationship is quit scary, and one can understand why distance is such a big issue with college. With this, it’s again what the student is most comfortable with. Remember that the further away the college is from home, the less that student may be able to come home. It may also be more expensive, especially if the student has to take a flight home for every holiday. Some people just can’t wait to get out of their hometown, but never limit yourself. Parents, as great as it would be for children to stay close to home, it’s important to let your kids go. I know parents who wouldn’t let their children attend a school simply because of distance. Trust me, it’s a surefire way to build resentment in the family.

3. What is class like and how do students treat their education?

Sit in on classes. When people are touring colleges, sometimes they don’t bother to take the time to sit in on classes. I strongly suggest students sit in on classes that interest them at every college they visit. Actually being in class and taking in the atmosphere can really help you decide if it is the right college for you. You can observe the overall demeanor of students. How seriously does the average student at this university take his or her education? Observe the professor, how interested is he or she in the subject? Do students interact well with the professor? Considering all this can help you narrow down colleges quite quickly. Remember not to sit in on a subject you hate, because you may be biasing yourself.

4. Will I be able to have fun?

Everyone assumes college is just automatic fun, but different people have different interests. If you enjoy just hanging out with friends and going to parties, than a more rural college campus would be great. However, some people like big sporting events, movies, dancing, clubs, etc. For that type of a person, I think a more urban campus life would be more fitting. Take the time to ask students what there is to do on campus. If it sounds like you’ll be bored out of your mind, maybe you should give another campus a try. As I’ve said before, my girlfriend goes to Kenyon College. She loves the rural environment. When I go to visit her, I’ll admit, I sometimes get bored. I am more into Ohio State’s proximity to downtown Columbus, and the massive Buckeye sporting events. It all comes down to preference when picking a college, just don’t overlook the surrounding area.

5. What majors are available?

This is a very important thing to consider. If you know exactly what you want to do, then maybe the highest-ranking school in that category is where you want to be. For example, an undergrad business major that had to select between the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania would clearly select Wharton (if considering rankings alone). Remember though, rankings aren’t everything. If you are the type of person who is unsure of your major, and may end up switching, than maybe a bigger school with a wider variety of majors is the key for you. If you think you’d like to be a writer, but you also like business, than a small liberal arts college may not be your cup of tea. Keep an open mind when looking at colleges and prepare yourself for all the things that may change.

There are many, many more things that college students should consider. Those are just five of the biggest. Students, when deciding where you’ll be spending the next 4+ years of your life, you can never be too careful. See as many colleges as possible, and utilize overnights, and class sit-ins to get a better sense of the student body and faculty. Research can help you pick the school that’s best for you. Parents, I strongly suggest you support your children in everything they do. Be the voice of reason when you need to be (for example, “we can in no way afford this college”). However, also realize that your child is embarking on their own life journey, and college is an integral part of that. Don’t hold on to your children to tightly, because it may only push them further away. There are also other things for parents to consider when helping their children to select a college, so ask friends for advice if you need help. Finding the perfect college can seem like an impossible task, but if prospective students consider all the options, ask the right questions, and get all the information, it won’t be so bad. Hopefully this post has given some good advice to help the decision making process.

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