About a year ago, I was finishing up my college campus tours and compiling a final list of where to apply to. It was stressful to say the least. Everyone said I would have a gut feeling of where I liked when I visited, which was partly true, but any feeling I had could have also been due to other factors such as the weather or my exhaustion from hearing about random statistics for the hundredth time. Tour guides will want to tell you about the percentage of students who study abroad, the most famous alum, and the prettiest libraries. This may seem important in the moment, but let me offer you this hot take: it’s not.
As I am over halfway done with my first semester of college, I want to give some unsolicited, unprofessional advice to high school seniors. Here’s what actually matters when choosing a college from least to most important.
According to the Princeton Review, West Point has the best college library. However, for students looking to go to West Point, how pretty the library is probably isn’t high on their checklist. My school has the 6th best college library… My friends and I were shocked by that. Sure it has great resources and an Aromas inside, but it’s just a study space. If the library isn’t nice, there are so many other buildings on campus you can study in. It’s just a plus, not a requirement.
Freshmen. Dorms. Suck. Unless the building was built within the last decade, there will be rumors of mold and odd stains and crooked ceiling panels that make you wonder what’s up there. But it’s okay – it really is all part of the experience. In some cases, you might get a suite or private bathroom which is GREAT, but if you don’t, that is completely normal. Do not choose a college based on how nice the dorms are. Just like the library, a nice dorm is a plus, but shouldn’t be a requirement.
I can tell you from experience… Having bad food choices is not the worst thing in your college experience. Most of the time, if the dining halls are subpar, there will be other places available on or around campus. Plus, there’s always door dash and delivery pizza. The only issue is budgeting for food and resisting the temptation to order a pizza at 2 in the morning for a snack.
Let me preface by saying this: college. is. different. from. high school. In high school, I was a member or held a leadership position in 5+ clubs, easily. In college, I am a part of 3 clubs plus a sorority, and it is a lot to handle and schedule around. Extracurriculars in high school are about combining your interests with what would make a strong resume. In college, extracurriculars are solely about your interests. At least for med school, I know they don’t place as much emphasis on them as actual clinical experience and internships. Look into what colleges have to offer for your particular interests, but don’t stress too much over it. There are so many clubs and opportunities to create your own.
This is really a personal choice, and one you have probably considered. If you want to go in-state, you already know that. If you want to go as far away as possible, you’ve had a conversation with your parents about that. I knew I wanted out-of-state, but also wanted to be within an easy driving distance to family. I’m thankful my college fits both of those wants, and it is relatively easy to decide on your ideal location once you consider your own wants.
It is important to note if you are looking for a big sports school, or a school that places a large emphasis on attending games. The school’s athletic reputation is often obvious in the media. For example, Penn State football games are huge, while University of Kentucky or Duke basketball games are a big deal. If you want sports to be a big part of your weekend, look into colleges that offer that. Overall, sports games are still fun even if it’s not a huge part of student life.
Honestly, this is what helped me choose my college. If you know what specific major you want, this could be a huge deciding factor for you. Even if you know what field you’re interested in, looking into colleges that have a solid reputation for it can help you decide. I knew I want to major in neuroscience, so I narrowed my top list down to schools that offer it.
8) Alumni Connections/Post-grad opportunities
This was a big one for me, but might not be as important to you. Undergrad is a stepping stone to grad school or your career, so it would be helpful to research what post-graduation would look like for you depending on what school you attend. Look at how well the school gets students into med/law school, or if there is a particular field a lot of alum tend to be in. Looking into your potential future can only help narrow down your choices.
Again, this is a personal decision. Look into in-state versus out-of-state tuition, financial aid, and scholarship opportunities. This is a conversation you should have with your parents, and it can help narrow down the colleges you’re interested in.
This is the most important thing to consider when choosing where to apply and where to attend. Vibes are everything. Diversity, politics, and region all play into a school’s overall vibe. I would suggest touring and reaching out to current students to try to catch a college’s vibe. Online forums are not always reliable, so I caution you if you research online. My school emphasizes the message “you belong,” so I knew I would be getting an environment filled with people from different backgrounds, which also helped me choose to attend. Look for your people, but don’t be afraid to look outside of your group, too.
Obviously, this is just my opinion on what is important after experiencing college life for a couple of months. Everyone will have different priorities, like if you want to be a legacy or got an athletic scholarship. Even if you don’t have that gut feeling of where to apply or attend, diving into the unique environment of where you finally choose is a great experience!
If you want to hear about my personal experience or have questions, feel free to comment below or DM my instagram @colorful.life.kc 🙂
Update: My Salutatorian Speech is on YouTube – check it out at https://youtu.be/3x-WZFpIPeE