Finding the “Right” College

It is a hard question to answer, “what makes a college ‘good’?” the reality is that what makes a college good for you might make it a bad choice for someone else. One thing is certain though, how ‘good’ a college is may have very little to do with rankings or the percentage of applicants they admit. Look past the numbers and try to see what a college can do for its students.

Small vs. Large College: Is the school you’re considering focusing on its students? Institutions with a student-centered approach to education, or with language to that effect in their mission statement, are likely to provide personalized education with lots of student-professor interaction. Large research institutions may receive a lot of grant funding or house esteemed researchers, but that may not be useful if you do not have access to those facilities or chances to interact with those professors in a meaningful way.

Freshman Retention Rate: An often telling statistic is a school’s freshman retention rate (the percentage of students that return for their sophomore year). Most students know after a year whether or not they made the right choice. If you see a school with low freshman retention, it is likely that students are not finding what they were told they would find, the school is not supporting them on campus (be it academically, financially, or socially) or the student did not identify whether or not the college was a good fit in the first place. Schools with high retention tend to do these things well and tend to have strong orientation and first-year experience programs. Students that return after their first year and eventually graduate are likely to have found a school that is engaging and valuable in their personal and professional development.

Strong Advising: Support on campus needs to take place for longer than just the student’s first year as well. Academic advising can play a key role in on-time graduation and finding engaging academic pathways for students. With strong advising, you can also make better-informed decisions about your academic and career options. Advising may not be something that is important to you in the college search process, but it will certainly be a key factor in your satisfaction with the college you choose when you are on their campus. Will you have a departmental advisor, an advisor for your specific college, or a generalist advisor for multiple parts of campus life? These are all important questions to consider – especially so if you are considering a graduate degree after your undergraduate career. Strong advising can set you up for long-term success.

Learning that Fits You: The academic environment can also play a huge role in determining if a college is ‘good’ for you. Finding a school that offers hands-on learning, cutting edge research, and abundant internship opportunities should be a goal for any student. You will want what you learn in the classroom to be applicable to the real world as well as in the job market, so having an experiential-learning environment is key! You may also want to make note of where students are finding their opportunities for internships and research. Is there a dedicated career development center or undergraduate research office? Will you be prepared to interview and have help with your resume? With which companies do students tend to intern? Will you have a mentor on campus? Will you have a senior project that brings all of your education together? These are important questions to consider.

It may not be as hard as you think to find a school that handles these aspects of academic and campus life well. Rankings and statistics may help you identify some options, but look to these other attributes to help you find colleges that are ‘good’ for you.

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