How to Choose a College or University

If you’re reading a guide to the college admissions process (including ours!), you’ll almost certainly encounter a step early in the application process where you are asked to research colleges and create a list of schools to which you plan to apply. But what does that really mean? How should you go about choosing the colleges to visit, to apply to, and, ultimately, to attend?

In truth, there’s no one factor involved in finding the right college. Some students prioritize academics and ranking; others the campus social scene; others care about financial aid above all. But if you’re just starting, casting a wide net can really help at the outset.

Whether you rely primarily on college websites, campus visits, discussions with current students, or (ideally) some combination thereof, learning about schools beyond their U.S. News and World Report ranking is crucial to creating a strong list of good-fit colleges.

14 Factors to Consider When Selecting a College or University
Below, you’ll find a list of the most common factors that influence prospective students’ decisions about whether a school is the right fit for them. As you begin thinking about your college search, we suggest using these factors to guide you.

Type of College
The first part of college planning is understanding your higher education goals. Many college-bound students opt for four-year universities, but others are interested in community colleges or trade schools. After that, you’ll want to consider whether you prefer a public or private school. Public universities are state-funded and tend to be larger and more diverse. Private schools vary in size and are generally looking to create a cohesive student body.

Academic Interest
Figuring out what you want to study in college is a process, and most universities have strengths in a variety of areas. Still, it’s worth making sure schools have the program you need. Many small colleges don’t have engineering or business programs, for example, while technical schools don’t always have a range of humanities classes. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to study, it’s worth investigating the options at different schools.

The next important factor to consider is: where do you want to be? Given that you have a nation (and world) full of colleges and universities from which to choose, thinking about location is a great way to begin narrowing down your college search. Do you want to be near or far from home? In the north, south, east, or west? Do you want to live in a city or in a more rural area? As you answer these questions, you’ll see the best colleges for you come into focus.

Student Body
Similarly, thinking about the size and composition of the student body is also a useful way to narrow your list of colleges. Some high school students want something much bigger than their current school; others prefer the intimacy of a small college campus. Additionally, ask yourself if the student body seems like one where you’d fit in. If you’re able to do a campus tour, look around and see what the college’s current students look like. You may also want to research the school’s demographics as well as its on-campus spaces for diverse student identities.

Campus Life & Culture
Understanding what your college experience would really be like can also help you narrow your list. Talking to current students is a great way to do this, but you can also research online and talk to campus representatives or admissions experts. What do students do for fun? What kinds of extracurricular activities are popular on and off campus? Do a lot of students participate in fraternities and sororities? Do many students go home on the weekends?

Academics & Research
Of course, your social life isn’t the only facet of the college experience! Even beyond making sure the colleges on your list have the academic program(s) you want, it’s also worth digging into schools’ academic culture. Are students competitive or collaborative? Are most classes lectures or discussions, and are they taught by professors or teaching assistants? Sitting in on a class during a campus visit can be a great way to learn about a school’s academic culture.

Cost & Financial Aid
In addition to finding the best college for your academic and personal development, it’s also important to find the right fit for your financial situation. As you narrow your schools, make sure to investigate their financial aid packages. Some private colleges offer an aid calculator on their websites to help you understand how much of the sticker price you can expect to pay, how much you might need in student loans, and how much might be made up in work study. In addition, be on the lookout for scholarships and other merit aid packages.

Career Preparation
Ideally, college is both a great experience on its own and a springboard for whatever you decide to do next. So, as you consider your college choices, be sure to look at how well schools can help you find and prepare for a career path. Does the school have a robust alumni network? Do current students have interesting internships related to their areas of study? Consider visiting the career center on your campus visit to learn more about what it offers.

Housing & Dining
Another important factor in understanding what your life will be like on campus is room and board. What kinds of housing and dining options exist for students? Do they mainly eat in a dining hall, or do they buy their meals around campus? Are there four years of guaranteed housing, or do students move into off-campus rentals after their sophomore or junior years? Is there any kind of designated first-year or special interest housing? Answers to these questions can make a big impact on what your day-to-day college experience is like.

Study Abroad Opportunities
Many colleges and universities also offer their students the opportunity to learn abroad for a semester or a year of college. This option doesn’t appeal to all students, but if it’s one that might be of interest to you, it’s worth looking into what kinds of opportunities exist at different schools for your intended major. As you research, ask questions like: what kinds of language requirements do you need? Will your credits transfer to your major? How much on-the-ground support does the school offer students who study abroad?

Graduation & Retention Rates
Another way to evaluate the suitability of a college is to make a note of its four-year graduation rates and its retention rates. If a significant number of students aren’t graduating in four years, that’s often a red flag that there’s something amiss. And, if retention rates are not in the 80s or above, you’ll know that a lot of students at that school end up transferring out before they finish, which is a sign that they’re not happy with what the school can offer them.

Acceptance Rate
It sounds a bit silly, but as you start to finalize your list, pay attention to acceptance rates! You might love a lot of Ivy League and other highly selective schools, but if every school on your list has an acceptance rate in the single digits, you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed. Make sure you have a range of schools on your list, including some that are easier to get into. Pay particular attention to the average high school GPAs and test scores of admitted students to see how you measure up.

Standardized Testing Requirements
Not all schools have the same standardized testing requirements, so if you’re someone who isn’t a strong test-taker or who faces financial barriers to standardized testing, be sure to pay attention to these requirements as well. Some colleges and universities are completely test-optional, meaning you don’t have to submit any SAT or ACT scores at all. Colleges also have a wide range of policies on SAT Subject Tests.

Other Application Considerations
Ultimately, the more you learn about different colleges, the more you’ll start to notice more and more detailed things that you might be looking for in the admissions process. As you start to know more, don’t be afraid to reach out to an admissions office and ask questions! Doing so can get you a straight answer, and it can also show admissions officers that you’re a serious applicant to their school.

Final Thoughts
Finding the right college is a long process. You need to interrogate your own aspirations, research schools online, visit multiple college campuses, and consider your financial needs. However, by considering factors like the ones outlined above, you will be able to find a handful schools to which you’ll actually apply—and, eventually, the one you’ll ultimately attend!

10 Top Reasons to Go to Boarding School

There are many reasons to go to boarding school. The academics, the athletics and the extracurricular activities are just a few considerations. Here are the 10 top reasons why you should go to boarding school.

10. You will get great teachers who love to teach.

Boarding schools traditionally hire teachers with degrees in their subjects. As well a large number of these experienced teachers have advanced degrees in their field. Typically all are passionate about their subject and love to teach it to young people. Because discipline is rarely a problem in boarding schools, these talented teachers get to teach without having to be traffic cops or paper pushers like their public school counterparts.

9. You will have great sports and sports facilities.

Most boarding schools have amazing sports facilities. The range of sports and teams is mind-boggling. You will find everything from squash to crew, hockey to basketball. Natatoria are common. So are equestrian facilities. Many boarding school fitness facilities make commercial fitness establishments look tame. The varsity teams travel regionally and globally to compete.

8. You will have great arts programs and arts facilities.

Theater, dance, music, fine arts, in short, anything and everything artistic is part of the opportunity which awaits you at most boarding schools. Several schools have magnificent performing arts centers and museums. Gorgeous chapels with fine pipe organs and choirs are still common. Chamber music, bands, orchestras, and jazz ensembles will give you many opportunities to use your musical talents. The art galleries and museums many schools have acquired offer another serious enhancement for the artistically inclined.

7. You will get to live away from home.

It’s never easy to leave the nest. But, doesn’t it make more sense to make the move a few years before college? Of course, it does. You will learn how to cope with life and all its many high and low points within a community of your peers who are going through the same things you are. All of this is happening under the watchful eye of your teachers who are mentors, not baby-sitters.

6. You will be stretched by the amount of academic work you have to do.

In a public school, you might read one Shakespeare play in a year if you are lucky and it happens to be relevant to the test. In a private school, you will read three or four Shakespeare plays and study them in detail. Teaching to the test is virtually unheard of because boarding schools only have to be concerned with getting you into a college. As a result, the depth and breadth of the academic courses in most schools is remarkable. This applies to traditional and progressive high schools alike. This short video gives us a glimpse of the academic experience at The Groton School, Groton, Massachusetts.

5. You will be surrounded by classmates who want to go to college.

Your classmates are in a boarding school because they want to be there. They want to learn. They want to be successful. The reason you go to private school is to learn. Most schools are rather selective about who they admit. Being willing to work hard in class and play hard on the playing field is all part of the college prep package boarding schools offer.

4. The libraries/media centers are well-stocked.

The older, more established schools have traditional library facilities which in many cases are better equipped than those at many colleges. Libraries have morphed over the years into media centers. The typical boarding school library will have the latest technology available, in addition to all the usual print materials. And they will have them in abundance.

3. You will learn to be responsible for yourself.

Taking a lot of little steps towards maturity is one of the intangibles of going to boarding school. You have to learn to get along with others because it is a community. You learn to be responsible for your actions because you are bound by an honor or discipline code of some kind. The lessons in life learned in boarding school will lay a solid foundation for adulthood. These young ladies will give us a guided tour of Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Greenfield, Massachusetts. You will see how boarding school has shaped them.

You will make friends for life. Most boarding school graduates look back at their years in school as a time when lasting friendships were established. Coupled with that is the building of a network of friends and acquaintances who know you and care about you. Isn’t that what life is really all about? Being surrounded by people who understand you and care about you is affirming and encouraging. We all can do with a dose of encouragement now and then, can’t we?

2. The classes are small.

If you are in a public school with 30-40 students to a class, chances are that you will just be a number, unless you are very smart or very bad. You will probably get lots of attention either way. In a boarding school, on the other hand, classes typically are 10-15 students. You cannot hide in a class that small. You have to participate. You will get called upon for your response. You will never just be a number in a boarding school. Boarding schools, as a rule, are not very large. Yes, some, like Exeter have 1,000 students. But most have a student population in the 350-500 student range.

1. It’s cool to be smart.

This is probably the best reason to go to boarding school. In a public school the kids who really want to learn frequently end up being social outcasts. Not so in boarding school. It’s cool to be smart in boarding school. It’s also very cool to learn.

These are our top ten reasons to go to boarding school. You will doubtless think of others. If all of this intrigues you, and you want to learn more about choosing a school, read 5 Steps for Choosing a Boarding School. One last bit of advice: don’t put off starting the process of choosing a boarding school to the last minute. You will need at least 18 months before the fall of the year in which you want your child to be in school.

To submit a boarding school application, click here

Post Credit: The Boarding School Review