Four Important Things to Consider when Choosing a College

Forbes recently published a nice column from a Professor and Contributor, Chad Orzel, on 4 important things to consider when choosing a college. They are:

1. Relax: The Stakes Are Lower Than You’ve Been Led To Believe: Parents and friends of your students may be putting undue pressure on them to make a decision about which college to attend. First and foremost, the author states if your student is choosing between multiple reasonably good offers, they’re in a great spot, and will end up fine. In fact, if they’re stressed out about the choice between multiple good schools, that’s probably an indication that it doesn’t much matter which of them they pick.

The college decision is not an all-or-nothing, right-or-wrong choice– if your student is choosing between comparable institutions, they can be happy and successful at any of them.

2. The Environment Matters: Given that education is mostly self-determined, the final choice among comparable colleges is to some degree an aesthetic one. That is, your student should choose the place where they will feel most comfortable, and most able to make use of the resources provided to them. And that means that things like the physical environment of the college are important to consider when making a decision. After all, they’re not just choosing where they will attend the occasional classes, they’re picking a place to live for the next several years. It is important for your student to visit each school they are considering to make sure it is a good fit.

3. Their classmates matter: Your students should try to get a sense of what the other students are like while they are visiting campus. They should sit in on a class or two, and pay attention not just to what the professor says, but how the students act. And do what they can to get a sense of the social environment– don’t just go to classes, but try to find out what students are like when they’re not in class. If they’re on an overnight visit, they should hang out with their host and their friends, and go to any evening events the school has organized.

They’re potentially going to be spending a lot of time with these folks, and ideally some of them will become lifelong friends. Make sure there are people there they can feel comfortable spending time with.

4. Academic Environment Matters: It may seem weird to put this at the end of the list, but again, their education is going to be mostly determined by what they do. The faculty and staff are not without influence, though, so it’s very important to make sure that they’re comfortable with them, too.

If they know roughly what they want to study, make sure they visit that specific department, or a few departments in the right general area, and get a sense of that environment as well. Are the faculty willing to talk to prospective students? More importantly, are they making the students who are already enrolled feel comfortable? It’s easy to put on a show for someone on a one-day visit, but harder to fake a comfortable environment for people who live there.

If your student visits a department and sees students hanging around working together, or working with faculty, that’s a great sign. If your student goes there on a weekday afternoon and the place is a ghost town, that suggests that students aren’t comfortable being there, which should make them concerned about whether they’re going to be comfortable being there.

The author expands his thoughts on each of the four items in his article which is linked here: Four Important Things to Consider When Choosing a College