Applying For and Picking the Right College for You
It is that time of the year again. High school juniors graduate to become seniors and start (or at least should have) thinking about what schools to apply to. They create their “Dream school, Reach school, safe school” list with the hopes of getting accepted to their top choice. There are some things I wish someone told me while I was applying and deciding between schools not only because it could’ve saved an immense of time but also stress through the whole process.
Look at how involved alumni are with your school
This is easily one of the most overlooked decision making factors for most students. Some people may even be wondering why this tops my list. But, alumni involvement can be a huge indicator for a lot of things. If a lot of alumni come back to campus, donate a ton back to the university, and are still involved with a lot of affairs, it can provide many opportunities for students to capitalize on. Ultimately, the thing any student can do is to create as many lasting relationships as possible. More importantly, if a lot of alumni are involved, it shows that they are willing to help current students, which is literally gold for internship opportunities and creating connections. These relationships (especially if they have alumni with a lot of stable jobs) are what are going to get you into those research labs, internships, and jobs. If a significant amount of alumni donate back to the school, it usually means that they believe that the school is generated a significant impact on their lives and that they have the money to donate back, which is also a decent indicator of a good school. Even if gaining wealth isn’t a priority for you, donating also shows that the university meant a lot to the alum. Lastly, if a lot of alumni are eager to come back to campus, it shows that they probably enjoyed their time a lot while they were in college, giving you some insight about the culture of the school. This isn’t always true and is the least quantitatively backed out of the three points, but my argument is that if a lot of alumni come back or are still involved with the school, then it probably shows people were very active and involved.
It is pretty easy to find this information online because most colleges have databases on alumni and articles are written in US News and other platforms. Always look at what alumni have to say about a school. While things may have changed, they are the only people who have truly lived the college experience that you may be seeking.
What schools have decent alumni interaction post-graduation? The Ivy League schools are almost always going to top that list, but there are a lot of other schools that come up that you wouldn’t expect. Looking at links like this are very helpful.
Look at where people end up
A lot of good universities have established pipelines to certain workplaces. While applying to schools, try to find out where these pipelines are. For example, a lot of people apply to the University of Virginia in hopes of getting accepted to the McIntire School of Commerce. This means that a lot of students at UVA are passionate about “business”. Look at what types of firms McIntire feeds into after college. Where are most people going? More often than not, you will follow similar paths if you have those goals.
In very big and diverse schools, it is important to look at pipelines for your expected major, not just the entire school. If you are premed, where are people researching? If you are business, then where are people going for internships? If you are in computer science, what types of projects are people working on? Don’t leave yourself hanging on these topics.
Tuition costs matter a lot
A lot of students say they take into account the cost of tuition, but most of the time they really don’t. There are obviously exceptions to this, but a lot of times I see students going out-of-state, when the in-state school is equivalently as good, if not better. There is a certain benefit of going out-of-state, such as new environment, people, etc., but make sure you are willing to pay anywhere from $30,000-$45,000 extra per year.
The people at your school matter the most
After 4 years of this place, your personality will at least partially embody the type of culture that your school has. This means looking at behaviors of people that attend the school you want to go to. This works best if you know people that go to the school. If you knew them before college, then look at how they changed. Are they more extroverted or introverted? Did they get a lot smarter? Do they constantly look stressed? The environment is going to have a huge effect on everything from your study habits to who you are as a person. Make sure you know who you want to strive to be and then chase the school that meets those requirements. Again, it doesn’t have to be just the Ivy leagues or the top ten. A lot of times, you are going to visit these schools and their culture is something you wouldn’t want to have for four years.
Do not become one dimensional in your decision making and choose a school based on how good a program is or the ranking of the school. Think about your future self and what you would want in the future.