You'll study. You'll learn. You'll prepare for your future career. But when you're not doing that stuff, there are thousands of other things you'll want to do on campus. Here are ten things to consider about life outside the classroom.
Student government and other campus groups allow students to make real decisions and influence campus life. Find out how you can get involved.
Do you act, sing, or play an instrument? Look for theatre groups, choirs, or instrumental ensembles that fit your style. At a smaller school, you'll have a better chance to star in the show; at a big school, you may stand on an impressive stage.
Small colleges have more opportunities to join the team. Some have more specialized sports, like disc golf, equestrian, or curling. Find out your chances of making the team or leading it.
Supporting the team.
At larger schools, sports are often more competitive, and it can be harder for students to make the team. But these schools might also have a fiercely active fan base and play on the national stage. You may not know anyone on the team personally, but you'll still be part of the crowd.
Want to join a fraternity or sorority? Greek life is the cornerstone of social activity on some campuses and nonexistent on others. Ask a current student about the importance of Greek life.
Are you lost without your elliptical? Only feel at home in a weight room? Fitness facilities vary greatly at colleges of all sizes. If you'll be using them, make sure they meet your needs.
Many private colleges have a specific church affiliation, but nearly all of them welcome students of all faiths and offer campus groups and worship services for everyone.
You'll be busy during your college years, but you'll have to sleep eventually. Ask if you'll have roommates. Wi-Fi. Laundry facilities. Are the rooms comfy? Are there any unique housing options? See how you'll live for the next four years.
You'll eat a lot of meals in four years. Find out if you'll have to purchase a dining plan. See if you'll have access to options outside of the dining hall, like coffee bars or sandwich shops. And most importantly, stop by for lunch and check out the food for yourself.
College traditions often take the form of distinctive annual events. Ask around—you'll probably find surprising (and occasionally bizarre) traditions that will create your most cherished memories.
So, where do you want to go? To help you answer this big question, here are ten little ones you'll want to ask first.
Does it have my academic program?
Not only should it have your intended major, but also other academic fields that interest you in case you change your mind. Remember, it's much easier to change your major than to transfer to a new school.
What's campus life like?
Look at the range of campus clubs, groups, and activities available. Read the college's Facebook page to see what's going on. Can you do the things you like to do? Any new experiences you want to try?
How far do I want to go?
Some students want to experience entirely new terrain, and some like to have a short drive to their parents' house for the weekend.
Can I afford it?
This is about more than the cost of tuition; it's figuring out a total financial aid solution. Scholarships, grants, and loans can significantly reduce the amount your family will pay.
Are athletics important?
Whether you want to play or just cheer from the sidelines, sports might be a big part of your college experience. Or not. The size of the school may be a big factor here.
How are the campus facilities?
Look at the library, the science labs, the residence halls, the fitness facility, and any other campus building you'll spend time in. The quality of these facilities will tell you a lot about the experience you'll have.
Is it the right size?
There are lots of reasons to select a big school. There are just as many reasons to attend a small one. Medium-ish, too. Be sure to try them all on for size.
Does it have a good mix of students?
When you visit a campus, you may see students who are just like you. You'll also see students who are nothing like you. Some of both is usually best, so find the mix that feels right.
Will I be challenged?
Ask if this is a place where you'll be pushed to grow and learn. Also determine if you'll be able to handle the work. Find out what level of academic rigor seems best for you.
Does it feel right?
When you make your final decision, it often comes down to your gut. Maybe it's the helpful professor or student you met—relationships you develop will be a core part of your college experience. Maybe it was the amazing research lab or art studio you visited. Sometimes you can't put your finger on it — maybe you just knew this college was right for you the minute you stepped on campus.
Of all the things to consider in your college search, there is one important factor that is a fundamental part of every college education. Namely, the education. Gauge how the schools you're considering stack up academically by asking these ten questions.
What kinds of students are typically admitted?
Look at the average test scores and high school GPAs of admitted students. Higher scores equal greater selectivity, which means increased academic rigor. Make sure this equation works in your favor.
What special academic opportunities are available?
See if student research, honors courses, or other specialized programs are available to undergraduate students. Your very first groundbreaking research project? Finding out if research opportunities exist.
How career-focused are the academic programs?
Check out how the coursework in your major syncs up with your career. If you need special certification (for a career like teaching), make sure you'll be able to get it.
How much emphasis is placed on essential professional skills?
Effective writing and problem-solving abilities will be valuable in any career. Although you'll concentrate on your major, these vital skills should be an equally important focus.
What are the qualifications of the faculty?
And what priority do they place on teaching undergrads? Research your potential professors, and be sure that the most qualified aren't only instructing at the graduate level.
How much out-of-class interaction is there between faculty and students?
Ask current students, or check individual faculty Web pages to see policies on office hours. Make sure your professors are just as invested in your education as you are.
Will you have access to career planning?
Determine whether the college has a dedicated career planning office. A top-notch academic program is much more rewarding if you can use it to get a job afterward.
What internship opportunities are available?
Many colleges have relationships with certain businesses or a deep reach into a particular industry. Maybe you'll find your dream job before you even leave campus.
What off-campus learning experiences are offered?
Want to travel the country or the world to dig deeper into your studies? For many students, the best thing about a college campus is leaving it every once in a while.
What successes have previous alumni had?
Find out where a college's graduates have earned advanced degrees and what they have accomplished in their careers.
Usually the first consideration in any college search is big public school or small private one. Each has its benefits, and you'll probably find schools in both categories on your final list. Here are ten reasons you might want to go to a private college.
They're more affordable than what you've been told.
The "high price" of private colleges is just a myth. Smaller colleges typically work with families individually to offer attractive financial aid packages. And unlike public universities, it doesn't matter if you're a state resident.
You won't get lost in a mob of students.
Private colleges tend to be smaller, and the classes are smaller, too. Many students prefer a more intimate learning environment as opposed to the arena-like classrooms of bigger public universities.
Your voice will be heard.
With smaller classes, you'll have a greater chance to contribute to the conversation. You'll have a true dialogue with professors and other students, during and after class.
You'll have support.
From your academic adviser to the career services office, at private colleges you'll find many people who can help you identify and achieve your career goals—and who genuinely care about your future success.
Your professors will know their stuff.
Classes and lab sessions are taught by professors, unlike public universities, where graduate students often lead the class.
You'll have greater access to research opportunities.
Private colleges are more likely to support research for undergraduate students. Faculty mentors are available to guide you through these learning experiences.
You'll find a college education that has value(s).
Private colleges often have a religious affiliation, but how that's expressed in campus life varies greatly. If spirituality is important to you, look for a school that reflects your beliefs.
You'll find a campus that feels more like home.
With a smaller student population and a more intimate campus, you'll know the people around you. It's also easier to take leadership roles on campus.
You'll have access to a committed alumni network.
With fewer graduates, alumni are more likely to work with new alumni to provide support and access to career opportunities. You'll become a member of an exclusive, yet powerful group.
You'll make a worthwhile investment.
According to a national survey, 77 percent of private, liberal arts college graduates rated their experience as "excellent," compared to 53 percent for graduates of leading public universities.