April 20th, 2010
Deciding where to attend college isn't easy for an average 17 or 18-year-old. Your selection will determine the quality of your next four to five years, and the work you'll perform during the 40 or 50 years thereafter. It's important that you prepare by diligently researching the colleges in which you're interested, and figure out how they fit into the context of your life.
Your number one priority should be to put yourself in the position to achieve the career you've always wanted, so consider the schools that have the best programs in your desired major. The quality of an individual department is more important than the quality of the college itself. That's because your most important classes – the ones that most relate to your career – will be taken in the department. If you're an exceptional student and an aspiring engineer, for example, consider some of the top engineering schools, like Georgia Tech, Stanford University and the University of Texas. Of course, studying the rankings will only give you superficial knowledge about the quality of the education schools provide. If you can, travel to campuses and listen to firsthand accounts by speaking with current professors and students. If the class sizes are small and students and professors interact regularly, you'll be more likely to learn the content. And while you're at it, inquire about the campus life. Are the students enjoying their college experiences? Is it a commuter school or is it a party school? Are there lots of campus organizations for people who share your interests and values? College isn't entirely about studying, so how you fit into the culture of the school should be taken into account.
Location is a key factor in the decision process. Independent students who want to go far away from home focus their searches on specific locations of interest. Many other students prefer remain close to home so they can easily visit their parents when they're homesick and remain close to their friends. Where you go can also affect the cost of your education. If you leave the state, you'll have to pay out-of-state tuition. In many cases, it's double or triple the price of what the school charges for in-state tuition. If you plan to attend a private college, be prepared to pay much more than you would at your state school; private colleges rely entirely on private funding. Ultimately, determining where you'll go to school will be easier once you've established your price range, favorite program, and desired location and environment.