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Informational Overload! What Should I Look For in a College or University?

By Jude Sotherlund
We are in an instant information age, where you can find almost anything you are looking for online, almost immediately. Sometimes, it might seem like there is simply too much information on colleges and universities available. What should you read? What should you focus on?

The very most important thing for you to focus on when researching colleges and universities is the fit factor. 'How will I fit in? What does this school offer for me specifically?'

All-too-often colleges and universities are selected based upon factors which, while remarkable, interesting or aesthetically pleasing, will not meet your interests; provide the support you need; or, offer the career path you envision. For example: · Mary chose her university based upon its academic rigor, campus life, and degree program. Mary is a practicing Catholic and did not realize that there was not a Catholic church within 5 miles of campus and there were very few religious services, much less Catholic Masses, on campus. She never realized how important a Catholic teen group and Sunday Mass were to her until she no longer had them available. · Derrick signed with a college that offered him a position on its baseball team. What Derrick failed to focus upon was the type of degree programs the technical school offered. The college scholarship had outshone everything else. The rigor of the school, coupled with the travel schedule of the baseball team, is making Derrick's second semester of his freshman year a nightmare. · Susan thought she had done due diligence in her college selection. She read the college guide and school brochure; understood its degree programs and academic support; and visited the campus for a tour and lunch. What Susan failed to realize, even after visiting the school, was that come the weekend the college emptied out as a large percentage of the students' primary residences were nearby. And while these students did not commute daily, Susan found herself with nothing to do and no one to do it with when the weekend arrived. Susan is thinking of transferring.

There are approximately 2500 colleges and universities in the United States, with several having a transfer rate of between 60 and 70%. How can you avoid these concerns?

  • 1. Start by making 'the list'—things you must have, and would like to have, in a college or university. No two lists will be exactly the same. You may be looking for an institution which offers lacrosse scholarships, a physical therapy degree, Greek life with a Jewish fraternity preferably, and near a small- to mid-sized large city. Your brother might be looking for an institution that offers journalism major, has a Temple nearby, and be located in the heart of a big city.
  • 2. Conduct your own Internet research using official college/university websites and websites in which students review the school and/or professors.
  • 3. Visit schools. No amount of research can compete with a campus visit, especially when they are still in session, as summer visits do not lend themselves to casual conversations with students about college life. Look at the college and its facilities. Look at the surrounding areas as well. Don't be overwhelmed by large universities, as your college life might only utilize a fraction of the campus. Don't be unimpressed by smaller schools, as their charm and intimacy may be unrivaled.
  • 4. Visualize Your Personal Time. If you are a high school senior, you will be moving from a 35-40 hour school week to one that is only 12-21 hours a week ' an educational vs. personal time reversal. What will you do with all of that downtime? Who will you do it with? Some of these issues will be school/campus dependent, while others will be dependent on you. Some things to explore:
  • a. Housing: Your new home. Where would you live? Are you an honors student looking for an honors dorm? Are you an engineering student, looking for a dorm with an engineering floor? If you want a single-sex dorm, is it offered? If you want a co-ed dorm do you want it co-ed by floor, hall, room? Is there a common area on each floor for socializing? Or, with space at a premium, do the students do all their entertaining in their rooms?
  • b. Schedule: Your Daily Routine. How easy is it to get the classes in your major? Ask upperclassmen if they are able to get the courses they need or if they have had difficulty in doing so, as this may add onto the typical 4 years to finish a degree? What's the teacher-student ratio? How many courses are taught by teaching assistants? Is it easy to get a tutor? Are your courses in large lecture halls? Internet based?
  • Try to visualize what a 'typical day.' How far are the dorms from the buildings you need to access? Is it a safe walk? What is the safety history of the school? Is it a short walk? Are cars allowed on campus? Would you bike? Skateboard? Are there coffee shops? Where is the laundry room? Mail room? Dry Cleaners? Are there jobs available on campus? In the surrounding area?

  • c. Friends: How many students live on campus? How many live in group homes/apartments on the outskirts of campus? How many students commute from home? What is the social life? What does the school offer? What are the interscholastic sports? What are the club and/or intramural sports? Are athletic events free for students? Or, does the student have to pay? How much? Is there a lottery to get tickets? Are there student productions? Improv nights? Does the school hold dances? Movie nights? Is the social life ON campus? Or, does everyone go off campus? Is there a Greek life (fraternities/sororities)? A National Pan-Hellenic Council (Divine Nine)?
  • 5. Position Yourself for Acceptance. Spend time with the university admissions staff. What is the acceptance rate at the colleges/universities you have selected? Is it better to apply early admissions? Early decision and legally binding? Regular admissions? What the ACT and SAT scores are of last year's freshman class? Should you retake the exams? Should you take SAT subject tests? Will the college tell you how they rank student application packages? Should you get more than three references? What matters most to the admissions staff?
  • It is an exciting time in your life, one full of self-analysis and discovery. These tips are to help you identify a good fit ' the first time. If you find you should transfer schools, you're in good company. Almost 2.5 million students transfer schools each year!

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