I graduate from college in a couple of days, and retrospectively, there are a couple of practical things I wish I knew before I chose my college and entered into it.
First and foremost, no matter where you go, you will most likely find good friends, extracurricular activities, and interesting experiences that challenge you to grow. However, there are some things that some schools do better than others and some factors that are hard to wrap your head around as a high school junior or senior.
1. Money Matters
Four years ago, I was not thinking much about money. I had four years to figure it out. I am leaving college with $30,000 in student loans. That may not seem like a lot compared to others, but I am still going to spend a significant number of years paying it off.
Was it worth it? I am unsure how different my educational experience would have been at another four year institution. I do not think the meaning I derived from my extracurricular and social experiences would have been radically different.
When it comes to choosing your college, remember that you are going to find like-minded people anywhere and many colleges offer similar social and recreational experiences. Choose a college that is not going to overburden you financially. At the end of the day, the reason you are going to college is to improve your life. You do not want to live paycheck to paycheck because you are paying off your loans.
2. You Don't Need Stuff
Almost every high school senior walks around Bed Bath and Beyond getting excited to buy all of the things they think they need for their room. They imagine a whole new life routine, sometimes see themselves kicking bad habits.
Your stuff is not going to change who you are. A lot of the stuff people pretend to need going into college will never be touched.
I recommend instead that you take stock of your morning and night routine right now, what you do during your free time, and then just purchase the items that correspond with current routines. You do not need to spend hundreds of dollars on supplies and stuff for your room. It’s an incredible waste of money and your room ends up looking cluttered (and like everyone else’s in your hall). Use your last summer to get creative in making decorations and other supplies.
3. Early Decisions Count
The first two years of school are when you make decisions, like majors, minors, and concentrations. These decisions impact your next two years and most certainly your first few years out of college as you look for work. It seems backwards to make important decisions when you are less smart and do not know yourself as well, but that is how college works.
Put in the extra effort those first two years doing copious amounts of research linking your majors, minors, and concentrations to future careers. Doing independent research is the best way to see if it is something you are actually interested in. When you are doing a project for class, you may think you are interested, but doing research on your own time (and not getting bored) can help you see what you are really interested in.
4. Know What Your College is Best At
Every college has something that it prides itself on. It is the thing they tell you about that makes it different from other schools. For my small liberal arts school, it was easy to access professors due to small class sizes. While this is not the same at every school, take advantage of the thing the school says it is good at.
Colleges attract faculty and administration that promote those qualities, so my professors really were easy to access and extremely helpful since they genuinely enjoyed interacting with us. If you're not taking advantage of the things your college is good at, you might as well have gone somewhere else. Whatever it is, it will help make your academic experience better.
Take Your Time & Try Not to Get Overwhelmed
The college decision making process is very scary. It is riddled with unknowns as you are making a decision that will fundamentally shape who you are.
It's tempting to just choose the first school where you feel comfortable on campus, but you really do need to take more into consideration than the prettiness of the campus and the ‘vibes’ you felt when you visit.
Admissions tours are a well-rehearsed show. Don't rely only on the campus visit to make your decision. Take some time to learn about student loans, what you will have to pay depending on your school, and if the school is giving you the "best bang for your buck."
Once your decision is made, do not stop researching. Try to figure out what it is that will drive you to live a full life, what your routines are, and how you can best take advantage of your school. Remember, you are paying them for the college experience, you should do all you can to utilize all of their services.
Get started finding the college majors and schools that fit you best academically, financially and socially.