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What college is right for you?

By a Student, Lucas
When thinking about their choices for colleges, many students and parents often have a far-too-narrow view. Some only focus on prestige, while others focus just on sports, and others still only look at the academics.

What unfortunately happens then is that students often find themselves unhappy with the school they choose, as they forgot to consider aspects of their school that they did not care about, or forgot about, when deciding where to apply.

To help students ultimately choose a college that is right for them, I've compiled a list of different aspects and qualities that differentiate schools. Hopefully, this list will help people confused on school to narrow down their choices, and to think about a wider range of characteristics that one should consider when looking for a college that they will be happy in.

Location

Many people sometimes underestimate the complexity location adds when attending a school. Going to school far away from home can add a decent amount of money to the cost of attendance. Airfare can be expensive. Additionally, students who get homesick easily or are not ready to be so far from family would probably be wiser to stay closer to home. An easily-homesick student living in California will probably not enjoy going to a school in Boston, for instance. Keep this in mind when selecting a school.

Social Life

This is hugely important for how happy a student is going to be at a school. Do they want to go to a party school? Then they are not going to be happy at a more strict Christian college. Does a student strongly dislike greek life? They would probably be happier at a less party-focused school. Some students will prefer sports-centric schools, while others might prefer schools that are more academically focused. Students should do some research on each school's social scene to make sure that they will be happy there.

This applies to political affiliations and attitudes to a certain extent as well. Someone who is extremely liberal will probably be miserable at a more conservative school like Liberty or Hillsdale. On the flip side, a hard conservative will most likely be pretty unhappy at an uncommonly liberal school like UC Berkeley. For most schools this will not matter, but keep this in mind depending on the college.

Students may also care about the religious or spiritual life on campus. Although nearly every college will have a Christian club, the overall culture will matter a lot as well. If the campus attitude toward religion is negative, a student seeking a strong religious culture will be very unhappy there. Thus, they would probably prefer to go to a good private Christian school such as Pepperdine or Wheaton. If you are a devout Christian choosing between secular schools, then make sure to do some research to determine each school's friendliness to religion. People of other religions may want to see if a college has a club of their religion before they choose to apply or attend a certain school as well.

Campus

A university can be rural, suburban, or urban. Students used to a busy city life may be bored and ill-at-ease at a rural school; other students might enjoy the close student body that often comes with a rural campus. Rural campuses also often have a lot of events as well to entertain the students and promote being social. Suburban campuses could be considered the happy medium; close enough to a city to be able to go to the city if wanted, but separate enough that the campus still has a lot of activities and things to do.

Other qualities are important here as well. Some students might want a campus that is more outdoorsy, with hiking trails, ski hills, or a lake for boating nearby. Others might want one in the city, with restaurants, movie theaters, malls, and everything else a city has to offer. Be mindful of commuter campuses, as if you don't have a car you will be bored.

Weather also needs to be considered; while some people are fine with snow and cold temperatures, others are miserable and uncomfortable. Weather can vary by region; Northwestern colleges will often be rainy, while Midwestern and Northeastern schools will get cold during the winter. The South and Southwest will be hotter.

Size

Students will like some sizes of schools better than others. Large public universities with 30k+ enrollment will be liked by some and disliked by others. Generally, smaller schools have smaller classes. Some will like the opportunity to disappear or be unnoticed in the large lecture classes at big colleges. Others might prefer the chance to get to know the professor in a small discussion-based class.

Type

Colleges range from liberal arts to research universities. Liberal arts schools focus more on the classical education, and will have less stem-oriented degrees than a national university. However, liberal arts schools are smaller, and students have smaller classes and a more personal relationships with the professor than at a big research institution. On the flip side, research universities provide far more opportunity for those in the stem field, but have larger, more impersonal classes, especially in the first year or two.

Prestige

Some careers, to be one of the most successful, require networking and prestige to get a top job. Students who want one of the top paying jobs in those fields often require prestige on their degree to get in to the highest paying companies. Thus, they may want to go to a more prestigious school, for instance one of the Ivies. Students will also need to network get job opportunities and career advancement. Again, for a high-paying job, a top school will be better for this. However, keep in mind that this is not essential, and most students will not need this as much of this aspect to succeed in their careers.

Hopefully this list has helped. Students and parents, please keep these characteristics in mind when selecting schools to apply for. It is important that one chooses a school that is both right for them and is a place where they will be happy and secure.

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