This article was published on HerCampus.com.
Ready for an understatement? Choosing a college is a crazy process. And in the midst of all the mania, it can be hard to narrow your focus, figure out what’s actually important and start making decisions.
No worries, though – we’ve broken it down for you. Here’s what matters when you’re picking a school, and what’s not essential at all.
Doesn’t Matter: Distance from your hometown
Does Matter: The actual town where your school is located
Many girls zero in on their school’s distance from mom’s cooking, high school friends, and the other comforts of home. Sure, huge cross-country differences might make or break your college decision. In those cases, you should look into the accessibility of transportation and how realistic it is for you and your budget. But for shorter distances – once you settle into a routine, you likely won’t be going home often, and an extra hour or two won’t make much difference. Instead, focus on the town where your school is located – that’s where you’ll be spending your time. “I wish that I would’ve focused on distance less and the town more. Honestly, there isn’t much to do in the little town of Indiana, Pennsylvania,” says Junene Taylor, a junior at Indiana University of PA. “Choosing a college surrounded by a great, active community is key in my opinion.”
Doesn’t Matter: The party scene
Does Matter: Access to activities you’re interested in
Whether or not your first choice has a reputation as a crazy party school really doesn’t matter. Every college has parties. Seriously, listen and take that in – every college has parties. And if crazy parties aren’t your thing, every college has a significant group of people who aren’t interested in that scene, either. So instead of focusing on that, figure out whether you’ll have access to the things that interest you most. Into indie music? You’ll want a town with a few solid concert venues. Crazy about the water? Make sure there’s a pool or two, either on campus or nearby.
Doesn’t Matter: How often the sports teams win
Does Matter: How much the students care when they do
Football Saturdays and courtside nights can seriously enhance your college experience. So we’re not telling you to leave athletics out of your search entirely. But whatever you do, don’t make your choice based on how often your school actually wins. Focus more on the level of spirit students display, and the game day traditions they take part in. “While having teams is great, the skill level of the teams isn’t important,” University of Portland sophomore Julia Kennedy says. “What makes the experience fun is if the student section is good or bad. Even if your team isn’t the best, if there are enthusiastic students, that is what makes it worth it.”
Doesn’t Matter: Whether every single expense is paid
Does Matter: Whether it’s feasible AND the school actually works for you
We’re not saying a full ride to your college of choice isn’t something to celebrate. And by all means, take the offer if you think you’ll be happy there. But don’t get so caught up in having every penny accounted for that you wind up at a school you hate. From student loans to part-time jobs, there might be ways to make it work. Sit down with your parents, your grandparents, whoever’s paying the deposit for your tuition and figure out exactly what’s feasible for you. It has to be financially doable, but the foremost concern is still what you’ll actually get out of your education at whatever college you choose.
Doesn’t Matter: Famous alumni
Does Matter: Connections for job and internship opportunities
Sure, it’d be nice to say you walked the same halls as Michael Jordan, like students at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, or that you ate the same lukewarm cafeteria food as Carrie Underwood, like collegiettes at Northeastern State. But it’s so much more important to choose a school that will help you build a network and gain access to job and internship opportunities. Check with both the university’s career center and the department you’ll be studying in and see what opportunities they offer to connect with alumni. Events like networking luncheons and student/alumni get-togethers can go a long way toward nailing down the perfect career opportunities.
Doesn’t Matter: The size of your dorm room
Does Matter: Housing availability and policies
Your dorm room is just a place to sleep and watch the occasional Ryan Gosling movie with your roommate. You probably won’t spend that much time there. But it is important to know what your housing options are as time rolls on. “I wish I had paid attention to the housing policy for students who aren’t freshmen,” says Mary Beth Hills, a senior at Aquinas College. Ask questions like how long you’ll be required to live on campus and where you’ll live after freshman year. It’s also important to know which rules and policies will apply while you’re living on campus. Will you be allowed to have a beer in your room when you turn 21? Can you have overnight guests of the opposite gender? How long can they stay? Make sure you check that out – it’s a lot more important than proximity to the cafeteria or how nice the bathrooms are.
Doesn’t Matter: The newest, shiniest facilities
Does Matter: Professors who care about what they do
That five-story, brand-new library might be impressive when you first see it. But once you’ve spent a few all-nighters there, it’ll be so familiar you don’t even remember what it looks like. Instead, sit in on a few classes and make sure the professors at your school are accessible, communicate clearly, and seem passionate about the subjects they teach. If you can’t do that, check out RateMyProfessor.com to see what real students think about the professors you’ll be taking classes with one day.
Doesn’t Matter: The best [insert major here] program in the country
Does Matter: A wide variety of majors, minors and corresponding activities
Even if you’re dead-set on a major, it’s okay to choose a school with a good program over a school with the best program. Remember that you’ll likely change your mind at least once. “What if you decide to switch majors or add a minor?” Junene asks. “Having that choice is extremely important. No one wants to be limited when it comes to their future.” Focus on corresponding extracurriculars too. If you’re a broadcasting major, how’s the radio station? Or, future teachers can look for a great tutoring program.
Doesn’t matter: How many people you know there
Does Matter: Whether students seem happy
Some girls want to go to a college that’s packed full of their high school friends. Others don’t want to see a single familiar face when they step on campus for the first time. But no matter which type you are, know that it doesn’t really matter. It’s much more important to assess the campus culture and see whether people seem engaged and glad to be there. “If you’re visiting, try to branch off of the tour and talk to real students about the school,” Tufts University senior Danielle Carbonneau suggests. “We love talking to potential classmates.”
Doesn’t Matter: The school’s “reputation”
Does Matter: Whether it’s the right place for YOU
Look, please don’t get us wrong – we’re not telling you to attend an unaccredited university no one’s ever heard of. But ignore all the other, silly stereotypes that build up around a school – like “only hippies go there” or “College XYZ is only for frat boys.” Instead, just tune out what everyone else thinks and focus on what fits for you. “There was something I felt every time I stepped on campus,” University of Portland sophomore Julia Kennedy says. “Not everyone feels this; some people even pick their college and still love it even if they don’t initially like the school. For me, it was intuition and my gut that led me to UP.”