Research your college choices

Many College Students End Up At the Wrong School For All the Wrong Reasons

Where you go to college is one of the most important decisions of your life. Not only do you commit four of your best years to the project, you also end up with the foundation for your career and possible graduate degrees. 

Most students know that college is an important milestone, and they know  it’s important to make a wise choice. But students often overlook important opportunities to research the colleges that they have applied to. 

A lot of students end up at the wrong college or university because they did not do their homework. You probably know to ask whether a college has the right program of study for you. And you know that you want to get into the best college that your grades will get you into. But there’s more research you should do.

Consult college statistic aggregators

There are numerous online and print aggregators that compare colleges to each other on academic rigor, graduation rates, and career trajectories, post college. The most reliable of these aggregators are mentioned below.

Definitely consult Peterson’s Four-Year Colleges. This document is still the industry standard when it comes to ranking colleges against each other and giving you valuable information about the overall prestige of the college. Much of Peterson’s is now online, but you may also want to borrow a print copy from your local public library or high school library. 

But you should not stop there. 

You should also consult the latest US News and World Report college guide which is available on line. US News does exhaustive research into most of the United States’ colleges and universities. It provides valuable information that Peterson’s may overlook–like student/teacher ratios, alumni satisfaction, and retention rates. 

Student/teacher ratios are important for many reasons. This statistic tells you how many students will be in your classes. For learning, a low student/teacher ratio is a good thing. For example, a twenty to one ratio tells you that, on average, there will be twenty students in a class with one professor.

Student/teacher ratios matter

A fifty to one ratio tells you that your college classes at that university will be quite large. In smaller classes, your teacher is more likely to know your name and much more likely to take your success in her class personally. If you get into trouble in a class, a professor with only twenty students per class is much more likely to take time to help you catch up. 

That said, some students love the anonymity of a big university with full lecture halls. At a school like that, you may find that you forge alliances with other students who have the same goals. If you get into trouble in a class, you may be able to get help from a fellow student.

Research prestige markers 

You want to look at where the school is now, but also look at its rankings over the last two or three years. If it’s rank has been improving, this is a good sign. The reputation of your college is a lot more important after you graduate than while you are a freshman. Ideally, you want a college you can get into where the reputation will improve.

It’s a good idea to research the faculty in your program of study. The university’s website usually makes it easy to see professor biographies which include the prof’s publications, degrees, and awards. It’s a no brainer that you want to go to a university with high-achieving faculty. Without them, that Peterson’s ranking is likely to drop in the years ahead. 

But if the faculty are shining, the schools’ ranking is likely to rise. And superstar faculty can do a lot more to help you in your career  than professors who had to get into teaching because they failed in the workforce. 

The interview and campus trip

Finally, use your campus interview to get information that isn’t published in a book or on the internet. Ask hard questions of the students who are already enrolled. The chances are good they will tell you the truth. 

Your senior year of high school is a busy time. Not only do you need to keep up with all your classes, but you are applying to colleges and visiting campuses. In-person interviews and campus visits are not required at all universities, but it’s a very good idea to visit the campuses of your top two or three choices. 

You will, of course, want to see the lay of the land, eat at the dining hall, and check out the recreational facilities. But there are a few more items you should put on your campus visit checklist. 

Make sure the dormitories are liveable

Check out the freshman dormitories. Most students live on campus during their freshman year, so it is important that you can live with the living conditions. Some universities invest a lot of money into decent student housing. Others use their tuition dollars for mahogany panelling in the vice president’s office. 

The state of the dorms is not something you want to discover after you’ve sent in your acceptance and deposit. Some students do not mind sharing a bathroom with three other people. Other students find it intolerable. It’s a good idea to know what you are getting yourself into. 

Seek out and talk to students who are in the program of study you are entering. It is particularly useful to talk to upperclassmen as they have the bigger picture. You want to know if the program is up to date and, where relevant, has good facilities. Do not get yourself stuck in a biology lab with 1950s equipment if you are heading to medical school. 

It’s also useful to attend a class or two in your major. Three hundred and four hundred level classes will give you the best idea what your last two years of college will look like. Are the classes nice and small, or are they packed out with over a hundred students?

Does the professor seem friendly and invested in the students? Is there good give and take? Do the students in the class seem happy or at least satisfied with the education they are getting? It could be a little tough to wangle a visit to one of these classes, but it will definitely be worth it. 

Is this a party school?

Many universities in the United States and other countries have put rules in place that essentially ban student parties. However, it will be very difficult to enforce these rules because determined students can find a way to meet, possibly in numbers that are not recommended by the university handbook.

It will be in your best interests to observe whether students at the university you are visiting are holding illegal parties and meetings. If so, you may want to go to a different school. Even if you don’t attend parties at college, the fact that they are taking place will increase the health risk for everyone on campus. 

Make your campus visit safe with the KVA Plan

Campus visits are rapidly evolving as colleges and universities figure out how to conduct these events safely. You may find that some events that were taking place in person are now conducted virtually. You can also improve your own safety by using the KVA Plan for meeting with admission counselors and student ambassadors. 

In conclusion, campus visits can be invaluable. Not only do they give you a chance to make a good impression on college administrators, they are also a good way to evaluate whether this is really the college or university for you.

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