Before you decide to spend possibly years of your life and thousands of dollars on a college education, do your homework. Make sure the school you choose is the right fit for your career goals, personality, academic preparation and ability to pay.
There are many different types of colleges and universities, each with its own distinct advantages and drawbacks for individual students. A good fit for one student might not work well for another. You should explore each school of interest and make a list of the pros and cons for each institution before deciding where you will attend.
- Do your SAT scores and GPA match the school’s requirements?
- Is the institution certified or accredited by the appropriate entities?
- Do the academic programs offered by the institution match your interests? Are those programs fully accredited?
- What about location? Is the school too far from home? Too close? Is the school located in a busy city or a small town?
- Does the campus and surrounding community offer opportunities for you to participate in extracurricular activities important to you?
- Can you easily commute to the school? If not, what housing options does the school offer and what is the cost (often called “room & board”)?
- How large is the school? What is the average class size? Some students do better when they attend schools where they can receive individualized attention, while others thrive on a larger campus.
- Are the instructors appropriately credentialed? Are most of the professors in your program full-time faculty members?
- Does the college offer internships, externships, study-abroad or service-learning opportunities? Such activities can enhance your education and may be attractive to potential employers.
- Get the facts. Schools should be able to provide students with information about graduation, retention, crime, and job placement rates.
- Does the college have a good support system for its students? This could include on-campus resources, such academic advisers, counselors and medical professionals, diversity officers, tutors, financial-aid advisers or a career center. Additionally, the school may offer external resources such as professional networks and affiliations with other schools or business partners.
- What about cost? Is the financial aid package sufficient to make the tuition affordable?
Visiting the Campus
One of the best ways to quickly determine whether a school is the right fit for you is to visit the campus. Attend an open house or contact the admissions office to schedule a visit.
While on campus, try the following:
Spend time in the dining hall, classroom or outdoor space where students gather. Get a feel for the campus community and talk to current students to learn about their experiences on campus.
Sit in on a class that would be required for your major. If possible, talk to the professor afterwards and ask any questions you might have about the program.
Sit in on a large lecture (if available) to see if this works for you.
Visit the library, as well as computer or science labs to make sure software and equipment are up to date. Hands-on experience can be very important to successful job preparation and placement, so it’s important to make sure that the institution you plan to attend has current equipment and facilities.
Pick up a copy of the student newspaper and literary magazine (or read them online). Check out student bulletin boards to learn more about available campus activities.
If possible, consider arranging an overnight stay in a residence hall on campus. Talk with your host or a member of the residence life staff to learn more about various campus housing options.
During your campus visit, continually ask yourself, “Can I see myself here? Is this school a good match for me? Do I feel at home here?” You might also want to jot down a few notes about the campus or take some photos because schools may begin to run together if you visit more than one.
Finding Out More About a School
Don’t worry if you aren’t able to visit every campus that interests you. You can learn a lot about a school by exploring its website (for a list of Virginia schools’ websites, click here), or by taking a virtual tour of the campus online. To access a list of some of the Virginia colleges and universities that offer virtual tours, click here. You can follow a school on Twitter and Facebook for campus updates.
Don’t have reliable access to the web? Check out the school’s catalogs or brochures, which you can pick up in person or have mailed to your home.
In addition to gathering information provided by the school, students can find out more about a school from outside sources. Consider the following resources to learn more about schools that interest you:
- Attend college or career fairs in your area.
- Get in touch with graduates and alumni of schools that interest you.
- Ask your school counselor or a librarian to recommend a college information guide.
- Contact potential employers and ask the Human Resources officer how graduates from a particular school or program are perceived.
- Schedule an appointment with your school counselor or a local access provider and go prepared with a list of questions about the schools that interest you. If they can’t answer your questions, they might be able to direct you to someone who can.
- Check out the 2015-16 Opportunities Guide and Workbook.