The words “senior year” carry a lot of different meanings for students. For some, senior year means catching senioritis and playing pranks on the underclassmen and faculty, while for others it means dancing the night away during prom. But whether all (or none) of these apply to you, many seniors do have one thing in common: the weight of college applications.
When I was a high school senior, I went into an information overload during the college search. I was constantly bombarded with informational pamphlets and booklets from college fairs, bucket loads of promotional emails and “snail” mail that clogged up my inbox for days, and had so many packets being thrown at me that I could have started a library with them.
Once my senior year got underway and the weeks began to pass, I began feeling rushed by the adults who would ask me what college I would be attending, especially as my friends began to declare their college choices.
Although I was being provided with tons of information in resources my senior year, I wasn’t given the information I needed the most: Which colleges should I be applying to?
For many students, the answer may be completely obvious. Just apply to the ones you’re interested in!
That sounds easy enough, but I had no clue where to begin. What factors should I take into consideration? Which factors are the truly important ones and which are clever commercialism efforts? How could I even make my “college interest list” when I didn’t know where to start?
As current college student, I now realize what that there are two different parts in figuring out which colleges you should be applying to: which factors you should be taking into consideration and what types of colleges you should be considering; this post has been divided into those sections, hopefully making your college search process easier and less stressful than mine was!
What “Types” of Colleges You Should Be Considering
This section is a bit of a larger umbrella for everything in your college search. You start by looking at the types of colleges and once you’ve selected those, start sorting which ones to apply to by which factors are important to you (which are covered in the next section).
1) A College Close to Home
Many students want to move away from home or have their heart set on a completely different university that is not the local college (even if the local college doesn’t offer your major). However, there are several reasons why applying to your local college may be a good idea:
- Financial Reasons: In-state tuition and commuting to school is much cheaper than going out-of-state and living on campus. That saved money could go towards keeping your student loans to a minimum, your dream study abroad trip, or those nights out with friends.
- Last-Minute Change of Heart: Although this is rarely something that you can predict, you may have a last-minute change of heart. This can be due to a variety of reasons. You may decide to pursue a major that is offered at the local college (whereas your previously chosen major was not) or you have a family/personal emergency that now causes you to prefer staying close to home.
- Something to Fall Back On: Think of applying to a local college as your back-up plan. If all else fails, at least you have this college. So why not apply?
2) A College Farther Away from Home
Students going to college often want more independence, so why not go to a college farther away from home! While it doesn’t have to be a completely different state (although there are ways to out-of-state for the in-state price), just moving 1-2 hours away can help you gain the independence you want while also being within easy reach of home.
3) A Community College
It’s unfortunate that many students shy away from starting out at a community college. After all, there are so many benefits that come with it, such as:
- Saves a TON of money
- High school students can earn dual-credit
- Exclusive scholarships for community college students transferring to a 4 year university
- Get the general education classes out of the way while trying to figure out a major
So if any of these apply to you, it’s definitely worth looking into! I know several people who have started out at community college and I’m jealous of how much they’ve saved.
4) A College Where You Will be “Financially Fit”
This college may not be your dream school; it may even offer your major! But if you are a competitive student and know that you are guaranteed a certain scholarship at the college, then you should go ahead and apply.
Even if you don’t have any interest in attending there, you can show that financial aid package offer to your first-choice school to try to negotiate for more funds.
5) An In-State College
This one is mainly for students who are considering attending college out-of-state.
You may be arguing with me that you really just don’t like the state you’re living in and want to try something new, or perhaps your major isn’t even offered in your state. Believe me, I’ve been there.
What does matter is that attending an in-state school during your prerequisites can save a lot of money in the long run; that saved money can then go towards paying your out-of-state tuition later on.
Additionally, applying to an in-state school is great because it allows you to have a fallback option if you switch your major to something that is offered in state or you get cold feet about moving far away from home.
6) An Out-of-State College
Please don’t peg me as a hypocrite since I just talked about how you would save a lot of money by attending an in-state school while you earn your prerequisites. What I didn’t realize until the end of my senior year was that many colleges will give in-state or reduced tuition to students of bordering/regional states, allowing these students more college options without breaking the bank. I realized this too late for me to take advantage of it, and I really wish that someone would have told me about this. (In fact, I talk more about it in this post.)
So basically, even though you would technically be attending an “out-of-state” school, you could possibly be paying in-state tuition for it!
Another possibility to attend an out-of-state school without breaking the bank is by pursuing a major that isn’t offered in your home state. Many states form agreements with other states in their geographic region to promise in-state tuition to an out-of-state student, as long as their major isn’t offered in their home state. This is not only a great way to expand your horizons, but also to pursue your dreams without the huge price tag!
Only want to attend college out-of-state for a semester or two? Check out the National Student Exchange Program! In fact, I wrote an entire blog post about it here that explains what it is and how it works, which you can find here.
7) Your Dream School
While I have given a lot of advice about how you should start at one school or another to save money while earning your degree, I believe wholeheartedly that you should apply to your dream school, no matter the cost, the location, or the mountain you may have to climb to get there. You never want to be the one going through the rest of your senior year and into college wondering “What if…?”
My one piece of advice about this is to not be blinded into ignoring the price tag due to the flattering data and statistics about the school and its programs, the state-of the-art classrooms, the awesome residence halls, or its location; you need to make sure that you can separate the value of the education from the enticing marketing techniques that draws many students to a particular college in the first place.
Which Factors You Should Be Considering
Now that we’ve covered what “types” of colleges you should be considering, we are going cover what factors you should be looking at with each college you are considering. Although you may have heard of these factors before, maybe nobody has ever explained them to you or you need a quick refresher as you are applying to college.
For many students (including me), money was the most crucial and deciding factor in a college search; after all, we’re torn between attending the college of our dreams and attending the college of our budget, which happens to many students.
Although you may just be looking at the price of tuition right now, you also need to include the costs of room and board, a meal plan, class fees, books, transportation, and much more. You also need to account for unexpected costs, such as room damages.
The best way to compare this between colleges is to create a spreadsheet and list an approximate costs of each variable for all the colleges that you are interested in.
Although your prospective colleges may already list something like this on their website, I would use it as a guideline rather than the actual thing. After all, I didn’t spend $1000 in transportation like my school’s website said I would because I didn’t own a car! It’s all about customizing the costs to you and what you will need.
College may be the first time that you are ever living away from home for several months at a time, and although you may not think that you will get homesick, there’s a pretty good chance that you will.
If you know that you will be homesick, then I recommend choosing a college closer to home so that you can visit often. Otherwise, you may find yourself miserable at school and possibly transferring colleges later on.
In addition, distance is important because of transportation. It can be a huge pain to have to book a plane ticket or take a 5+ hour car ride every time you need to go home for a holiday or break; the huge distance can also present a huge challenge financially due to the costs associated with air travel, gas, car maintenance, and insurance.
So before you go attending a college on the other side of the country, you may want to consider some of these factors.
If you are moving away from home, then a change in climate is something that you will want to take into consideration.
After all, college isn’t like high school, where all of your classes are going to be in one building. In college, you will be going in and out of several different buildings all throughout the day, no matter what the weather is like. That means that you will need to choose a college in a climate that you are prepared for and can handle.
For example, I am a very warm-natured person; it’s really hard for me to get hot, but I get cold extremely easily. This meant that I needed to look at colleges that resided mainly in a warm climate and that didn’t have bad winters. Unfortunately, this meant that some of the colleges that I was looking at (like in Alaska, Montana, etc.) were out of the question.
4) Modes of Transportation
“Modes of Transportation” doesn’t only mean how are you going to get to school (although that certainty is included), it also means how are you going to get around on campus!
For example, before I transferred schools, I was attending a college that was almost 4 hours away…and I didn’t own a car. This meant that every time I needed to come home for a school break or a holiday, I was either carpooling with someone from school or begging my parents for a ride.
When I was on campus, getting around town could also be a struggle. So whether I was getting groceries or going to church, I was always either catching the bus (which I didn’t have the greatest experience with), or carpooling with a friend.
So before you choose your school, you not only need to consider how you are going to get to school and back, but you also need to consider how you are going to get around town, whether public transportation is available, etc.
5) Campus Size
The importance of a campus’ size can vary from person to person, but it is something worth considering because it not only means how many people on campus, but also how large the campus may be; if you’re wanting something small and intimate, then a large, state college may not be the thing for you. On the other hand, if you’re wanting lots of different people and a place where there’s always something new to try out, visit, and see, then a large campus may be the thing for you.
Whenever I was doing my college search, the quality of food was always one of those things that I just looked over. After all, I should be the one to judge a campus by its food, and if it sucked, then so what? I was there for the education, not a fine dining experience.
While this may be true to an extent, if you’re living on campus and are paying hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars for a food plan, you’ll want to make sure that the food is at least edible, because you can’t go sinking what little money you do have into non-campus food.
Since then, I’ve gotten to eat on several different campuses, and I now realize how much of a difference it can make in a student’s livelihood. I’ve eaten at one campus where their idea of an entrée was either baked potato or some pasta noodles with nacho sauce poured over them (don’t ask), while at another campus it was Shepard’s pie with green beans on the side and a triple chocolate fudge cake for dessert.
It’s no wonder that I eventually voted to attend the school with the Shepard’s pie and cake.
Needless to say, always check out the campus’ food when you can; if you can’t, then check out the food ratings from students and why they gave the rating they did. If anything, it at least allows you to figure out your budget for outside food/snacks.
Although you may not originally think that geography would have a very big impact on your college decision, it can actually play a major factor in it since you may be in a completely different environment; as a result, this can affect your ability to adjust to your new surroundings and how comfortable you are with them.
For example, if you live in a landlocked state and decide to go to college in Florida, you should probably be comfortable with the fact that it will have hurricanes.
Similarly, if you love living in low, flat landscapes, then you need to consider that going to school in the mountains will not only change landscape you’re living in, but also the weather.
Besides cost, one of the most influential factors in the college search is the academics. Focus on the academic factors that relate to your major and interests. Does it really matter if they’re science department is #1 in the state if your major is in art education?
But in addition to academics, remember to also look at what experiences they have available, such as internships, field work, or major-related extracurricular activities; these experiences can be just as important as the school’s academics, if not more so.
By personalization, I mean ‘what can the college do to help meet your needs?’
This may mean small class sizes for individual attention, a large availability of office hours, or easy access allergen-free, vegan, or vegetarian foods. Whatever it is, see what the school has in place for you to make the most out of your experience and education, because this will be one of the most impacting factors on your college experience.
Campuses can range between being isolated and rural to urban and busy. Each can have it’s upsides and downfalls, but depending on your major, it’s locality may need to play a more important factor then you think.
For example, let’s say you’re an agriculture major and you need an internship at a farm/research facility while also taking classes at your college. This is great, but if you’re attending an urban college, driving a long distance to get to your internship can be extremely exhausting every day.
Similarly, if you’re an architecture major going to school in a rural area, finding a local internship can be almost impossible.
That being said, it’s important to look at the local area around your college to see what opportunities will be available to you, and what you may have to sacrifice on if you truly want to go to college there.
11) Additional Opportunities
Besides your major, what else is offered at your college that you’re interested in? This list can include numerous things, such as Greek life, honors programs, themed housing, study abroad, and extracurricular activities. These additional opportunities can help shape your entire college experience, so make sure you look at what is available as you consider each college!
The college search process can be very overwhelming and scary, but it doesn’t have to be! As long as you focus on what is important to you and your needs, then you will be successful in whatever path you travel on. If you have any more questions on applying to college, leave a comment below or reach out to me at [email protected]. I’d love to help out!