Factors to Consider When Choosing a College
There are countless aspects of earning a degree that are both exciting and memorable. From the initial events of the college experience—attending your first class, having your first meal in the cafeteria, and choosing between the ample number of social clubs—your academic endeavors can fill numerous pages in a scrapbook (or nowadays, an Instagram highlight reel).
Certainly, one of the most dramatic moments of the college journey is the departure. The old trope typically depicted in films follows a similar narrative—the fresh-faced college student packs (up to the brim, of course) their hand-me-down car with all their belongings and gives one final hug to Mom and Dad before driving off to college. The scene paints a sweet and tender picture of a first-year student’s leave-taking, but it ignores all the time and angst of choosing a school that preceded that moment.
If you’d like some help selecting which institution to attend, consider some of these important factors and how they will affect your experience and postgraduation expectations.
The cost of a college education is substantially higher than in years past, and while it shouldn't be the ultimate factor in your decision-making, it's a critical part of it. You undoubtedly know that in-state public schools are generally a good deal less costly than private schools (regardless of their location). In addition to tuition, books, and financial aid, make sure to consider items that are not mentioned in the schools’ catalogs, such as gas, entertainment, and food and housing if you will live off campus. Such expenses will vary depending on where your college is located.
Distance and Climate
Consider the physical distance of the college from your home. If you need to fly to get to the school, you are unlikely to be travelling frequently back and forth. Would you be comfortable not seeing your family for months at a time? On the other hand, cell phones make keeping in touch easy, and you might like to be far away from your familiar surroundings. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in a new environment, being far from home might be very appealing.
You should also consider the climate and weather of the school’s location. If you love warmer weather and sunshine, it's probably in your best interest to consider attending a school that's located where these qualities are strongly represented—like Pepperdine. On the other hand, if you can’t imagine a winter without snow, you may be better suited to a school in the Northeast.
Every region of the country has its own culture. The nonstop nature of New York City is unlike the bucolic Southeast, which is unlike the sunny breeziness of Southern California. Consider what type of environment you would thrive in, along with what would offer you the greatest variety of growth opportunities.
Keep in mind that experiencing a new culture is an enriching journey, and for some, it's entirely the reason they choose a specific school. Exposure to new ways of thinking and expressing helps put the world in perspective and shows you just how big the world can be. So, if you're comfortable with it, embrace the change.
A central purpose of a college education is to help you explore a number of future career opportunities and earn skills that aid you in securing a career. In considering how a college will fulfill these roles, be sure to look at postgraduation employment rates and explore the school’s career center’s offerings. Do the staff help students apply for jobs and offer interviewing guidance? Do they help students find internships or jobs at local organizations? Find out whether the coursework features hands-on learning. Look into whether there are local industries that might be interesting to you.
As remote work is becoming increasingly widespread, physical access to an office or other career location after graduation may not be as critical as it once was. Nonetheless, as a student, your in-person experiences are going to be very influential on your professional development and on your future opportunities—so your college’s location matters.
A Specific Program
If a college has a particularly strong program in an area that interests you, such as business or education, that offering should weigh heavily in your decision-making. You can learn whether a school’s specific program is considered robust in a number of ways—ask professionals in the field what skills are most critical for entry and success in practice and explore the school’s catalog for the number and breadth of classes in that field of study.
College rankings for areas of study can also be informative. Find out whether a program is accredited. Pepperdine’s undergraduate program in business administration, for example, is accredited by the AACSB, which means that it has undergone a rigorous evaluation process to ensure students learn what they need to know to succeed in business. Getting a great education is certainly the primary objective in working toward a degree, so researching the quality of a college’s academic offerings in your area of interest is a worthwhile endeavor.
Wherever Your Journey Leads, Make the Most of the Road Traveled
Once you’ve considered the factors listed above and made a decision, feel good about that and resolve to make the most of your college experience. Whatever school you decide to attend, be sure to:
- Explore and partake in extracurricular activities such as student organizations, clubs, and on-campus events. These are beneficial ways to take advantage of the various resources offered at universities and contribute significantly to your overall college experience.
- Create meaningful relationships with your peers and focus on building your network.
- Get to know your professors and use them as a helpful resource for career building.
- Find ways to apply the skills you're learning in school to your expected profession.
- Expand your horizons by trying things out of your comfort zone; you never know what may come from it.
In the end, earning an education is a holistic journey and one we hope will be an enriching experience no matter which college you choose.