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7 Steps For Picking The Best College

It can be stressful when you're trying to pick the best college to attend. Here are 7 steps to help you prepare, research and decide.

Zoe Lim
March 16, 2016

It’s said that the college years are one of the best times of a student’s life. However, when it comes to choosing a college to attend, it can actually be one of the most stressful decisions that a young person and their families have to make.

It’s best to start the process as soon as possible - however, most teens may not have any idea where to start or how to pick the best college for their needs.

Choosing a college doesn’t have to be a difficult decision. You just have to make sure you know what you want, do your research, and explore all possible options.

(Note: Possible options may also mean not going the traditional route - like taking an accounting course, or learning a new skill like coding. You might even want to take a gap year and do something else before thinking about going to college.)

If you're ready to start thinking about colleges and higher education, here are 7 simple steps on how you can make the entire process easier and really make sure that you end up choosing the best college for yourself:

1. Decide what you want

Everyone has different goals in life, but that’s okay. You may not even be at a point where you’re sure about what you want to do yet, but before you pick a college, you need to make a decision about what you want.

Take some time to sit down (either by yourself or with your parents), and ask yourself what’s important to you, where you want to be, and who you want to become. You may or may not have a major in mind, but knowing your goals will help you to choose a college that can help you achieve them.

Once you have your goals set, you can start looking through colleges. In this Internet era, it’ll probably won’t be too difficult for you to quickly browse through college websites online and find out what you need to know.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Size/Location of the college
  • Distance from where you live
  • Available programs and classes
  • Housing options
  • Available extracurricular activities (clubs, sports, etc)
  • Campus atmosphere/facilities
  • Cost
  • College prerequisites

With all these in mind, think about whether or not the college can help you achieve your goals. Do you have a specific major in mind? If so, does the college offer courses for it, and does it have a well-structured program and strong syllabus?

2. Make a list

As you go through various colleges, you’ll want to make a list of potential places that seem promising.Rank colleges according to how well they meet your criteria.You’ll want to have about three possible lists:

  1. Your preferred colleges - these are your top choices, colleges that you would like to attend (assuming you meet the requirements)
  2. Your potential colleges - these places may not meet all of your criteria, but there may be other things they offer which are just as promising
  3. Your “safety” colleges - these are places that you definitely meet the requirements for, but which are basically the safety net to fall back on if the other places that you apply to don’t work out.

Keep an open mind as you go, and stay open to possibilities. If you need advice, then go to your parents and/or friends and talk to them. Take their suggestions into account, and remember that the list you’re making can be changed as you learn new things about different colleges from other people’s perspectives and experience.

3. Check the place out in person

As great as the Internet is, it’s still important to make sure you visit your potential college in person, so that you can find out as much as you can about what it would actually be like to study there.

Some colleges may have open days, where potential students can visit for a tour of the campus. This gives you a great opportunity to have an insider’s view of the college works, as well as how strong the programs and extracurricular activities are and how happy the student body is. You’ll also get to check out the facilities provided, and be able to ask questions about the classes and general college life.

Most importantly, one thing you may wish to do is schedule a personal chat with a college rep so that you can speak to them one-on-one in more detail.

Also, if you’re planning to apply for a college that is in another country, or one that is far from where you live, you can still try to schedule a visit if money and time allows. You don’t want to travel all that way only to be disappointed later by what you find.

4. Check if financial help is available

College isn’t cheap. You may have found the perfect college for yourself, but one thing you’ll need to consider is whether or not you can afford to go there.

Remember that you may well be at your chosen college for at least 2-3 years, and besides the tuition fees there will be things like college resource fees, food costs, accommodation fees (if you’re not staying at home), and transportation fees (you may need to take public transport or drive).

If your college is in another country, then you’ll probably have to factor in all of those costs along with the current exchange rate as well.

So when you’re checking out colleges, make sure to ask about their packages and financial aid. Most colleges may offer student loans, scholarships or work-study programs, or they may have other options to help you cut costs. Even if you don’t get a full ride, every little bit helps!

5. Keep your long-term goals in mind

As you search for the best college for your needs, remember to look into whether or not it provides job connections or future networking options that will allow you to set up for your future career.

If you already have a good idea of the career you want to pursue, then it would be good to find a school that has a strong reputation in that area. Also, find out how often your college has job fairs, on-campus interviews - and even whether or not there is a career counselor available on campus who can help you out if you need any guidance or advice.

6. Make a short-list

After looking through all the many options available, it’s time to make a short-list of the colleges that you would like to apply to.

List down the pros and cons of each place and cross off the ones with too many negative points. Think about the colleges that offer the best opportunities and facilities, and where you felt most comfortable during your campus visits.

By the end, you should have narrowed your options down to about 5 potential colleges, and can start the application process once you’re ready.

7. Don’t procrastinate

The process of finding the right college takes time, so you really shouldn’t put it off until the last minute.

It’s a difficult decision which will affect your future, and you’ll want to get it right the first time if you can. Which is exactly why you need to spend time and effort researching colleges seriously and finding out as much as you can, or risk making costly mistakes later down the line.

As you explore your college options, you may begin to feel overwhelmed at the sheer number of different options available. Take things slow and do things one step at a time. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it from your parents, family members, or friends.

This is one of the most important decisions you could make, and it will affect your future, so it’s worth investing the time and effort into picking the best college you can.

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