When I was in high school, I knew college was where I was headed after graduation. I just didn’t know how to get there. I had attended college fairs and poured over .edu websites, but nothing explained how to choose the college for me. I had no idea where to start and I kind of felt like
Is there anything more frustrating than being told to do something and having no idea how to do it? Ugh…
Well, I made it to college, graduated and landed a cool job at my alma mater. I’ve worked in college admissions for three years now and I’ve learned the struggles I experienced are all too common for students exploring college options. Here are 5 questions to ask that will help you find the right college for you.
#1) Big school versus small school?
Every future college student should ask this question. Big schools offer a wide variety of opportunities for activities and sports, but you’ll probably have classes of 500 or more students. Small schools may not offer the variety of opportunity a large school does, but the opportunities offered will be easier to engage and classes will be smaller, creating a better learning environment for most students.
This is definitely not a comprehensive list of pros and cons, and it’s important to note that individual schools may differ from these trends. Regardless, this is a really good place to start your college search.
#2) Private school vs. public school?
Just like #1, the public vs. private school question will help you dramatically reduce the number of schools you are considering. Again, each option has advantages and drawbacks but because you’re exploring the BLUEPRINT website, I’m going to assume you’re strongly considering a private college, which is great! I’m a huge proponent of private higher education. Many indicators of student success show that private colleges do a better job of equipping graduates for the future than public colleges do. Don’t worry about the price differences between these types of schools either! We’ll get to that later.
#3) How close to home do I want to be?
This question is becoming increasingly important to students. There are a variety of reasons students may want to stay close to home or go far away. Whatever your reasons are, determining how far from home you want to attend college will make your decision on which college to choose much easier.
#4) What’s my out of pocket price range, and what’s my limit on student loans?
DO NOT confuse out of pocket price with tuition price. The quoted tuition costs are almost always higher than out of pocket costs you’ll pay to attend any school. Public and private schools can differ a lot, but in general you can expect your out of pocket costs to be lower than the school’s quoted prices because you’ll receive financial aid1. Understanding your out of pocket price range will help you decide which schools are viable options for you to attend once you’ve received a financial aid package from each school.
A great website to check out is projectonstudentdebt.org. This website lets you look up the average debt load a student incurs at a specific college or university in the US. This is also not the same as out of pocket price, but it can be another tool to get an idea of how much you can expect to pay. Also, it’s important to remember to divide the debt load by four to get a per year average.
#5) What are my top 3 or 4 choices like in person?
Visit your top three or four choices! There is absolutely no better way to decide if a school is a good fit for you than by attending a visit arranged by the admissions office of the school(s) you’re exploring. You’ll be able to get important questions answered, eat in the cafeteria, and explore the dorm. If there are other topics you’d like to address, just let your visit coordinator know! An in person visit will always show you something you didn’t know about the school, even if you know the website front to back.
Hopefully these steps help you find a school that is a perfect fit for you! You’ll coast through the college search process like a pro, feeling awesome.
1 Financial aid is the term colleges use to describe any payment method not including someone (you, your parents, etc) writing a personal check. This includes scholarships, grants, and loans.
Adam Lyon has been an Admissions Counselor at Northwest Nazarene University since the fall of 2010. He graduated from NNU with a degree in Biology and a minor in Communications. If you have questions concerning college or the application process for college, email Adam at arlyon(at)nnu.edu. Your question might end up on the blog!