When creating your college list, you've probably got a few “must-have" features in mind that you can't live without, whether it's proximity to home, a football team or an obscure major that you're set on pursuing. But those aren't the only factors you should keep in mind when evaluating schools, and to ensure you're looking at colleges that fit your interests, it's a good idea to go a bit deeper during your search.
“If possible, I think it's very important to visit a school," said Christine Andrews, PhD, a private college admissions consultant who previously worked as an admissions reader for Yale University and has served as a Yale alumni interviewer. “Take a tour, walk around the campus, sit in on a class, eat a meal in the dining hall and spend time among students," she said. Are the students engaged in the way you imagined? Can you see yourself in on the action there?
Checking out those factors can help you pinpoint when a school feels right during your time on campus, she said. In addition, you should consider the following factors both as you search for schools and when you visit them, Andrews advises:
1. Academic offerings. Consider majors, minors and specific programs of study. Does a college have the major or specific program of study that you are seeking? Can you double major, or major and minor? Are there interdisciplinary majors? Is the academic rigor of the college appropriate for you?
2. Curriculum Flexibility. Look at the general education and graduation requirements. How “open" is the curriculum? Some schools have core classes that every student must take and other schools have completely open curriculums without any requirements. Most schools fall somewhere in between.
3. Demographics. Evaluate the male to female ratio, geographic, ethnic, racial and religious diversity.
4. Type of school. Consider the differences in attending a university versus a liberal arts college; or a public school versus a private school.
5. Geographic location. How far away from home would be a comfortable distance? Would you mind having to fly to college? (Factor in cost). Do you want to be able to drive home for a weekend?
6. Size. What is too big and what is too small?
7. Setting. Consider the differences among urban/suburban/rural campuses. Is “in the middle of nowhere" an option? Is “smack in the middle of a city" an option?
8. Weather. Will climate play a role in your college selection?
9. General atmosphere. Consider if a school is too liberal, conservative, traditional or alternative for you.
10. Housing. Evaluate how many students live on campus and what the dorms are like. Do you want a college that guarantees on-campus housing for students? Do you want the option of living off-campus? Would it be okay if you had to live off-campus after freshman year? Do you want single-sex housing, or are you okay with coed housing?
11. Religious affiliation. Is it okay if a college has a specific religious affiliation?
12. Greek Life. Consider the presence or absence of fraternities and sororities on campus. Do you want there to be a large Greek life on campus? Do you want the opportunity to live in a sorority or fraternity? Would you prefer a campus in which the social life is not heavily influenced by sororities and fraternities?
13. Sports. Think about the role that athletics play on the college campus. Do you want to attend a college with Division I athletic teams? Is it important to be somewhere that has a lot of school spirit focused on athletics? Do you want to be able to play on a club or intramural team?
14. Extracurricular activities. Consider the variety of extracurricular activities on campus. Do you want to be able to join academic, religious, service-oriented, dance, music, theater and/or recreational activities?
15. Food. Review the dining options, especially if you have dietary restrictions. Do you want the opportunity to eat all meals on campus? Do you want a large variety of dining options?
16. Cost. Consider if a college is affordable. Does it offer merit scholarships? How generous is the college with financial aid?
Once you visit a school (if feasible) and consider all of these options, you'll have a better shot at creating a college list that works well for your interests.