Finding Your College Fit

Five factors to consider when selecting the best college for you.
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Marcus D. Powell
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Five factors to consider when selecting the best college for you.

Aside from the fall, the yellowing of the leaves and the drop in temperature marks another important time of the year, especially for seniors: the college search season. This time is both exciting and stressful as students tirelessly hunt for a university that best fits them. This concise yet thorough guide is for all of my high school seniors vigorously searching for the best college/university that most perfectly matches all of their wants and needs.

1. Type of School

Before going any further in your search, it is important to know the type of college that you are interested in attending. There is a wide variety of choices to attaining a degree, including community colleges vs. traditional four-year universities, predominantly white institutions (PWI) vs. historically black colleges/universities (HBCU), and liberal arts schools vs. visual arts schools among others.

Community colleges are two-year institutions where students can receive an Associate’s degree upon completion. Often much cheaper than traditional universities, many of those who attend community college usually transfer to a four-year college afterwards for about two-years to achieve their Bachelor’s degree. This is a great option for those trying to save money!

Choosing between a PWI and an HBCU all comes down to personal preference as there are many benefits from attending either. Therefore, if you want to attend a university established by people of your race or one with more racial diversity, this is entirely your choice but is definitely a huge factor to consider.

Liberal art colleges focus primarily on subjects such as literature, mathematics, and the sciences while visual art schools, on the other hand, emphasizes drawing, photography, and film-making among others. Luckily, a majority of universities offer both liberal and visual arts but if not, make sure to attend a college that offers your major and best serves your interests.

2. Cost

Unfortunately, cost is a major factor to consider when applying for school. Even if the illustrious NYU is your dream school and you meet all of the qualifications of being admitted, you still have to cover that $60,000+ tuition rate. Luckily, there are many opportunities available to assist you financially, including loans, grants, and scholarships. There are an abundance of scholarship engines out there, such as Scholarships.com, FastWeb, and College Board among others so utilize them!

3. Reputation

A school's prestige goes far beyond its world and national rankings but a university's reputation is still an important element to consider. The top ranking arts & design school in the nation, for example, may be fruitful for you as it offers a multitude of resources and opportunities; however, keep in mind that those lists may use a different criteria than you regarding being "the best." Consider researching a school's admission rate, freshman retention rate, and post-graduation job placement rate to influence your decision as well.

4. Location/Distance from Home

Whether you choose to attend a major university in a large metropolitan city in the Northeast or a small liberal arts college in the rural Midwest, location is definitely a crucial factor in the college selection process. Students from big cities, for example, often ponder on whether or not they want to venture to a more suburban or rural area for college in search of a new experience or continue living in an urban environment. Another factor related to location is the school's proximity to home. Many newly-independent young people may not want to be too close to home allowing parents to easily show up but also not too far in the event you wanted to come home for a weekend. (Note: You may also want to consider the cost of transportation to and from school!). Regardless, it is all a matter of personal preference.  

5. Campus Culture

Howard University students demonstrating. (Credit: James Lawler Duggan)

Howard University students demonstrating. (Credit: James Lawler Duggan)

Probably the single most important factor on this list pretty much gets to the root of whether or not you feel connected with your campus. College websites and brochures often attempt to summarize student life in a few paragraphs but this spirit goes far beyond the confines those documents. The best way to get a true feel of the campus culture is to actually visit the school. Again, it is difficult to actually define these small intricacies that makes you feel at home at a university but they will definitely become apparent to you once stepping foot on campus.

The combination of these factors along with countless others should serve as a helpful guide for you as you embark on your college search. The decision is ultimately yours so make one that best works for you.