It’s tempting to attend the most well-known school that accepted you, but it’s just as easy to be miserable at an Ivy League if it’s not the right fit for you. Most people know to some extent that the best school varies based on the individual; a pre-law student may not be best suited for MIT, for example. Yet it can still be incredibly tough to pick which college to attend, much less apply to. Those amazing alumni networks and stellar classmates won’t be much use if you’re homesick, overworked, or socially isolated.
Figure out what’s right for you. School prestige is less important than ‘fit.’ Really think about your personality and interests and consider what would be best for you between isolated or metropolitan campuses, schools close to home or across the country, ‘preppy’ vs. ‘artsy’ campus cultures (although keep in mind that you can find your niche anywhere), small and large class sizes, liberal arts colleges and research universities. Success and happiness at a given school can vary wildly based on personality; some students feel isolated at a small or rural campus and would thrive at a larger school where others may feel lost in the crowd.
Don’t look at the sticker price, especially when choosing where to apply. ‘Cheaper’ in-state schools can often end up costing more than ‘expensive’ private colleges with need-based aid and no-loan policies. Compare your financial aid packages carefully, and remember to negotiate, especially if you have a better offer from an equivalent school. However, don’t be seduced by the free iPads, paid summer vacations, and other perks that are often the sign of a school with poor academics hoping to boost their average GPA.
Don’t believe everything you hear. A school’s less stellar reputation may be just that: a reputation. Plenty of “party schools” have thriving academic circles and vice versa. Don’t judge a school’s professors solely on their credentials – ‘flashy’ professors are rarely better than ones who put the focus on their students. Having a Pulitzer, a Nobel Prize, or a bestselling book doesn’t mean a professor is good at giving lectures, evaluating work, or mentoring students. Evaluate the school yourself – go to admit weekend, sit in on classes, join Facebook groups and subreddits, and attend district meetups. The best way to find out if a college’s social and academic scene works for you is to participate in it.
This is about you, not anyone else. It can be hard, but try to evaluate your choices based on who you are, not what anyone else wants. Don’t pick a school because it’s where the person you’re dating is going. If it’s meant to be, being apart won’t change that. If it’s not, you’ll be stuck on the same campus as your ex. And although this may sound laughably impossible to you, don’t listen to where your parents want you to go. Maybe they’re alumni, maybe they just like the school colors, maybe they think they know where you’d be best off better than you do, but regardless, it’s not the right reason to attend. Your parents want what’s best for you, and although they may not be ready to admit it, part of that involves you becoming an independent adult.