On the Prowl: Things to keep in mind while looking at colleges

As the eldest child in a family of immigrants,  I entered college with an immense lack of information. Despite the support I received from my family, my parents and I manuevered through the college application process with the help of US News and pure instinct. Here are some things I wish I would have known to look like when deciding what schools to apply to!

1. Your Investment

Many families are often quick to look at proximity and cost and often overlook extremely important facts like graduation rates. Students and families should look at college as a multi-year, six-figure investment. An investment that you definitely want returns on. So look at those returns!

Graduation Rate

If you’re putting your time and money into a school with a low graduation rate, you are betting against yourself to graduate. Your intelligence and ability to handle the workload often has no bearing on whether you’ll graduate or not.  What low graduation rates should say to you is that this university has a fluid student body, trouble providing support to students, and/or that students have difficulty keeping their financial aid. This is too big of an investment to be taken lightly, make sure the odds are in your favor.

Graduate Outcomes

Where do their graduates end up and how much do they make? Nowadays, it’s not enough to just have a college degree. Two important questions to ask is  “What percentage of students end up with jobs related to their majors after graduation?” and ” What is the average salary of recent graduates?” You want to attend the institution that gives you the best opportunity for success upon graduation.

2. Financials

Students often look at the initial price tag of universities when deciding whether they can afford universities or not. Top universities have more endowments and therefore more flexibility when providing student aid, which means that you often pay less while getting a lot more.



As you can see from this graph pulled from a research article by Caroline Hoxby, competitive universities ask their students to pay less while still receiving much more. Click here to read an article by US News identifying the universities that meet full financial aid!

3. Who are you and what do you want?

This is an extremely important question that you must ask yourself when deciding which university will be the best fit for you.
o Are you introverted or extroverted?
o Are you internally motivated or do you need some external push?
o How independent are you?
o Do you know exactly what you want to major in or are you unsure?
o Was your high school big or small?
o What kind of relationship did you have with your peers in high school?
o What kind of relationship would you like with your professors?
o What kind of support would you like from your peers, if any?

College doesn’t have to be simply an extension of your high school experience. Before you enter college, you have the opportunity to assess what worked for you and what didn’t, and make things better! But, in order to do so you must be honest with yourself. For example, if you’re someone who won’t come to class if nobody notices, you may need the structure of a smaller university to keep you on track. If your interest lies in nursing or social work, you may want the flexibility in classes and majors that a larger university provides.

No one knows you better than you, so be honest with the things that would get in the way of you not succeeding in school.

4. Your Social Life

Yes, that matters too! What do you want it to look like? Some people yearn for the excitement and camaraderie of a big sports school, while others…not so much. I would encourage you to take any opportunities to spend the night at a university and truly get to know the people and the culture. Be aware of the way you feel while at a university because chances are, you may continue to feel that way when you enroll. If you visit a school and have the “where have these people been all my life moment,” it’s probably a good sign that you’ll gel well with the people and the culture. Notice that I spoke about your general impression of the people, plural not singular, so chemistry you had with a young co-ed or your awkward student host should not make or break your impression of the university as a whole.

5. Workload

When you go on a college tour, I would recommend asking students about their workload. Better yet, talk to your college advisor about getting in touch with some alumni who may have gone to your school and ask them about how they tranisitioned to this university. Unless you’ve gone to a very reputable high school, it’s difficult to know exactly how prepared you are for various universities until you begin taking classes. Gathering as much information as you can from alumni can help you better prepare for any academic obstacle ahead. If you know that students from your high school tend to struggle in STEM related majors once in college, take the opportunity to take a few classes at your local community college or online. Once at school, make sure to build a good relationship with your professors and TA’s. They can provide you extra one-on-one support, as well as link you up with a tutor.


Hope this helps!

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