Close your eyes for a moment and picture yourself out of high school — no more lockers, home room or cool-kid cafeteria cliques. You’ve graduated, moved on and are about to begin a brand new chapter of your life in an entirely new world. What kind of college do you envision yourself at?
At which type of school can you see yourself flourishing academically, socially, mentally and perhaps even spiritually? Is it a small private school, a community college, a religious school, a big technology institute, online college or a public university close to home? Oftentimes, it seems as if the best place to start your college search is by brainstorming a list of names of a bunch of schools that might pique your interest — perhaps because of their majors, athletic programs or social scenes. But, in reality, it’s really important to consider the type of school you’ll best thrive in before you worry about specific school names and programs.
Here are five questions to consider as you investigate the type of school that will be best for you.
1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
It’s important to reflect on what your strengths and weaknesses over your high school years have been. Chances are that throughout high school, you’ve been involved in a myriad of activities — some you loved, others not so much. During these activities, whether they were the arts, sports, social activist groups, or other areas, what did you learn about yourself? In what areas did you not only excel and thrive in, but actually love? What parts of high school did you dread most or struggle in? Give yourself a minute or two to jot down a few of your strengths and weaknesses.
2. What inspires you to do more, to do better?
Pondering on your past inspirations, interests and temperaments in particular situations can provide you with some insight on which type of college environment is complementary to your personality. This is really important to keep in mind when choosing a college! If you are a city person and you feed energy off of living in an active area, then chances are that a college in the middle of a ghost town would not be your smartest choice.
3. What do you want to do while in college?
Do you have hopes of playing on the basketball team, participating in a Model UN club or joining a choir? These are all things to keep in mind. College is about more than pursuing your academic goals. It’s a place to customize your skill set and expand in and explore the areas you’ve always wanted to.
4. What is your dream job and/or career?
It’s critical to ask yourself this question, even if your answer will change from time to time. Think of being able to do anything — what would you do? What kind of school would help you accomplish this most efficiently? It can sometimes be tempting to go to a particular school for the experience, but remember that beyond the four-year experience, college is a crucial stepping stone to the rest of your life. Be real with yourself — what collegiate experience and environment will best help you accomplish your personal and professional dreams?
5. Where do you see yourself after college?
Although you might change majors, change ideas and have a new vision for your future every other day, it’s important to have a general idea as to where you see yourself in order to set yourself up for success. If you know for a fact you want to become a doctor, for instance, thinking about the type of medical school you may want to attend will help you decide what kind of undergraduate environment will be most conducive to helping you learn and maintain good study habits. You’d also want to consider which schools would offer you opportunities to intern and volunteer at hospitals you might want to work at one day.
The real first step to choosing a college lies in getting to know yourself. By no means must you know yourself perfectly — a large part of your time in college is about finding out just that! But, having a good understanding of the environments that you are likely to succeed in will help alleviate time, stress and worry when deciding which schools to apply to. Also, keep in mind that there is a school for everyone — you just need to find the one for you! It can be really helpful to start local. You may want to go far away from home for school, but starting your search locally can help you focus. Make plans to visit a large university, a small private school and perhaps a community college in your home area to help kickstart your college search.
Get excited! New horizons are coming very soon, and it’s almost time to take the next step towards achieving your goals.