I have a lot of pride in my university. According to Forbes, the University of Michigan is ranked #57 on their list of America’s top colleges. This gives me extensive bragging rights, and frankly, I’m kind of a snob about it. But I do have to wonder: If I’d gone to a smaller school, would things be different? Would I still be graduating with student loan debt? Would I have chosen a different major? Would I have discovered the meaning of life by now?
When it comes to choosing a college, it’s impossible to predict whether you’ll fit in, like your classes, or be able to succeed there. I can’t pick a college for you, but I can give you a few pointers from my personal experience. So once the acceptance letters start rolling in, here are some things to consider when choosing the place where you’ll spend the next four years.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t even consider the cost of tuition when I was picking a college. I figured that I’d rely on my parents and financial aid to pay the price. In reality, I ended up taking out a few student loans that I’m not looking forward to paying back. In fact, FinAid.org says that the average cumulative debt incurred by four-year undergraduate students is upwards of $27,000, which is a pretty scary number.
More expensive doesn’t always mean “better.” Don’t go to a pricey private school when you could get the same quality education from a public one. Don’t go to school in another state when in-state tuition is less than half the cost. Keep in mind that the cost of college tuition is more than just a number in a brochure; student loans could make a huge difference in your lifestyle once graduation day is over.
Believe it or not, you’ll miss your family once the excitement of being on your own wears off. If you stay close to home, you’ll be able to pop by for a visit when you have a day off or when you just need to see good ol’ mom and dad. If you go farther away, you’ll probably only see your family for major holidays and summer vacation. If you don’t want each trip home to cost you hundreds of dollars in airfare or gasoline, picking a school that’s within a few hours of home is probably a good idea.
The dreams you have when you enter college will probably change before you buy your cap and gown. I started my freshman year with plans to become a veterinarian. In reality, I’m pursuing a concentration in English and planning to be a copywriter. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that science classes weren’t really my thing.
Your major will most likely change a few times along way. If you’ve got a few potential majors in mind, go to a school that offers all or most of them. Don’t pick a college because they have one really good program that you’re interested in; allow yourself to explore different subjects so that you can pick a major you’ll love for life.
Size of the university
The size of the school will have a big impact on just about every facet of your college education. Should you go big or small? Here are the pros of each.
Big schools have:
- Diverse class offerings. With so much to choose from, you’ll be able to study whatever your heart desires.
- High-powered athletics. Even if you’re not a sports fan, college sports are a big deal. Athletics are a huge part of campus culture and they’ll have a big effect on your school experience.
- More student activities. With a huge, diverse student body, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an activity or club that the university doesn’t already have.
- A big reputation. You’ll be graduating into a big network of alumni, which can mean a lot when you’re looking for your first job. Listing a big school on your resume will earn you a lot of recognition, whereas smaller schools are not necessarily so well-known or highly esteemed.
Small schools have:
- Smaller class sizes. You’ll be a lot less likely to end up in a 200-person lecture hall. You’ll also have an easier time making your voice heard in class.
- Less competition. Want to work on the school newspaper? Get involved in student government? It’s a lot easier when you’re not competing against thousands and thousands of your peers.
- More classes taught by professors. Your professors will be more accessible than professors at larger universities, where many classes are taught by grad students.
You won’t know for sure whether a school is right for you until you’re a student there. On the other hand, considering these aspects of your potential colleges will give you more insight into whether that school is a viable option for your finances and your career path.
What is your most important factor in choosing a college? Leave a comment below to share with other Zing readers.