From Top Computer Science Programs to Tiny Liberal Arts Colleges, These Factors Will Help You Find Your Ideal School
by Angela Bourassa
With more than 5,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, figuring out which one is the perfect fit for you can feel extremely overwhelming. What if the right college is someplace you've never heard of? What if you're interested in a school all the way across the country? What if you're not quite sure what you want to study?
The best way to sift through all the chaos of this important decision is to make a list of all the things you want in a school before you start doing your research. By knowing what your must-haves are, it will be easier for you to quickly determine which schools won't work, which ones could be good possibilities, and which ones are your absolute dream schools.
Here are four factors that you should consider before searching for the right college, in this order:
1. What do you want to study?
This is the most important consideration because it's the main reason that you're going to school. Yes, you want to make friends and have a great time, but you're going for the education first and foremost.
If you feel certain about your career path before heading to college, that's great. It should be pretty easy to zone in on schools that will suit your career goals.
If you have a few different things you might want to do, you can make a list of your preferences and look for schools that cover all (or most) of your bases.
And if you have absolutely no idea what you want to do, that's ok, too. Not being sure about your future is helpful, because it helps you limit your search to schools that aren't overly specialized and offer a lot of great departments to choose from.
2. Where do you want to study?
This answer could be about staying close to home, getting far away from home, living somewhere you've always dreamed of, or it could be about establishing yourself in the place where you want to start your career.
For example, if you want to study computer science, there are a lot of places that you can do that, but it might be best for your career to study in a technology hub like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York where you could potentially get internships or meet mentors in your chosen industry while you're still in school.
3. What size college makes sense for you?
Big schools and little schools both have their advantages and disadvantages. It can be easy to feel lost at a big school, but it can also be a great place to find your particular niche. Smaller schools tend to be more closely knit and have stronger alumni networks, but they can also be somewhat limiting.
Another thing to keep in mind is that larger schools often come with larger class sizes. This isn't always the case, though, so you should be sure to check the student/faculty ratio of any school you're applying to if personal attention is important to you.
The most important thing is finding a class size and campus culture that you can thrive in.
4. How much can you afford to spend on college?
This is the last item on the list because it's important, but you shouldn't necessarily rule out a school preemptively because of cost. For example, if you're shooting for an Ivy League school but your parents don't make very much, that shouldn't stop you. Ivy league schools -- and other top private schools like Stanford -- are tuition-free for students whose parents make less than a certain threshold, usually around $125,000 per year. You should also keep in mind what scholarships you might have available to you and be proactive about applying.
But you also need to remember that student debt is no joke. It's a serious crisis in this country and one that you don't want to get buried under. If paying for college is a key concern for you, you'll definitely want to consider public schools in your state and schools that offer modern payment options like income share agreements. This model allows you to attend a school tuition-free and then pay for your education with a portion of your paycheck after you graduate.
Factors that Should NOT Determine Where You Go to School
I know it's hard, but try not to worry about where your friends are going. If they're great friends, you'll stay in touch. You should also do your best to look past name recognition to find schools that are the best fit with your interests rather than the school with the fanciest name that will take you. And try not to let your parents sway you to their alma mater -- unless their school really is a great fit for you.
Where you go to school is about your education, the start of your adult life, and your goals for your future career. Wherever you choose to go and whatever you choose to study, remember why you're going to college and what you want out of the experience.
Make School is a two-year computer science college based in San Francisco that offers a Bachelor's degree in Applied Computer Science. The focus of Make School is providing product-based learning that prepares students for real-world careers in software development. Students graduate with an average salary of $95k.
Learn more about Make School's philosophy, courses, and outcomes at https://www.makeschool.com/computer-science.