You wake up on the first day of your senior year in high school feeling pretty content with life; your GPA is good, you have a great group of friends, and you haven’t fought with your family in like, two weeks.
That happiness abruptly ends about five minutes after pulling up to the school parking lot, when one of your buds ask you if you’ve heard anything back from any colleges yet. You casually make a joke about him flipping burgers next year, while your heart nearly throws itself out your chest. College?!
Choosing a college can be a stressful and difficult decision to make–do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Before even beginning the application process, you have to narrow down a list of over 4,000 colleges and universities (we’re just talking in the US) to at least a list of 10. To even fathom making that choice seems impossible, especially within such a short time period.
Applications are due soon, you have a thousand things to do already, and you’re pretty sure the college counselor that (supposedly) works at your high school took a six month vacation. How are you supposed to decide where you’re going to spend the next four years of your life when you can barely decide which cereal you’re going to have for breakfast?
The first soothing piece of information to remind all future-college students is that the college that you choose does not define you. College is simply the first step, in a line of many, to kick start you into the future you want. With that in mind, there are three major components that can break down your options: location, size, and finances.
Location can help you narrow down your options nearly immediately. If you know you hate the cold, or are dreaming of a tropical paradise, you have already condensed your options to a few warm states across the nation. If you’ve forgotten what the color green looks like and are sick of the desert, looking to the forests and mountains in the north will help you slice that list in half. If you’re planning on staying in-state, you’ve already narrowed your choices to three or four options. Easy peasy.
Next is size. Even easier than location. How do you picture yourself in college? Do you foresee yourself in a giant crowd, screaming your team name with your school’s colors splashed across your face? Or in a warm living room, laughing over the absurdities of college professors with a few friends and a glass of wine? Not that you can’t have both at either type of college, but choosing between a huge state university or a small liberal arts college can be as easy as describing yourself: what kind of person you are, what drives your passions, and the type of community you enjoy the most.
Finally, finances. Every university has a sticker price that can be found in three seconds over the internet. Sit down with your parents and find a realistic budget, and only apply to colleges within that price range. Scholarships can be an added bonus that make your life a whole lot easier, but relying on them to get you into that $60,000 a year school will often lead to disappointment. Start realistic, and the money will help narrow your choices into a mangable and stress-free list.
Remember that despite the difficulty, picking your school is only half the battle. Start giving your four legged-friend an extra pat here and there, and begin packing away those favorite snacks and jars of peanut butter to keep you company in the dorms.
Message other future students to make some friends before you even leave, and keep an eye out for refurbished electronics to get good deals on quality products you’re going to need for those late night papers and many hours of studying (or for video games, whatever type of student you may be).
No matter what you decide, or where you choose to go, remember that you control your future. Only you control your life. Picking a college is the first of many important steps in life, and only you control where you end up. So take a deep breath, find that jar of peanut butter, and get ready for a four-year journey you won’t forget.