Now that the weather is turning warmer, life is returning to some sense of normalcy. The major holidays of the year are over, the school bus has returned to the neighborhood to pick up the children huddled on the corner in the blowing wind.
This is the time of year when classes loom large and the end of the school year feels far away. For a lot of high school seniors, like our next door neighbor, the college decision deadlines are coming up, some already passed. For some the decision is easy since they’ve had a plan all along where to go. For others they might not get anywhere they want and have to go with an alternate plan. Still others might be realizing they want to go at all and have to research all the options all at once.
For me it was a somewhat drawn-out process. I agonized over my decision for months before finally coming to a complete conclusion. But there was good reasons it took so long:
Not only had I never visited any schools before fall/winter of my senior year, I had a list of a dozen places to look at for my computer science major: a bunch of state schools and a smaller subset of private colleges that were all out-of-state. In the end I chose the only school I hadn’t visited (the school my parents met at), but only after road trips to every other campus on my list and many headaches trying to decide.
As part of making that decision, I weighed a lot of factors. Being the indecisive individual I am, I wasn’t leaning strongly in any particular direction. I made a sort of pros and cons list to help categorize why I was leaning toward particular schools. All of them would have been good choices for different reasons, and I could see myself succeeding and enjoying them all for various details. I thought about so many aspects of what goes into making a college the right fit.
All of the schools I was looking at needed to have a computer science program. Some of them were certified programs that met more rigorous standards, others had only a handful of professors for the subject. I ruled out a huge in-state university which was deprioritizing their department and eventually got rid of it by merging with engineering. By contrast, a few that stayed in the running we’re even building brand new CS buildings with state-of-the-art labs. Some schools that claimed CS degrees really meant they would let you work in their IT Department or study with a few Masters students.
Sticking around the family, or at least within a day’s drive, was going make me compromise on other aspects. No private schools nearby had strong enough computer science programs for me to even consider, so I had to look farther away from home. However, the out-of-state nature of those schools meant that I couldn’t use in state scholarships and tuition savings.
Like it or not, the cost of college is always part of the decision-making process. While visiting many of the schools I attended events to help qualify me for scholarships, and worked hard on homework to keep up my grades along the way. For a while I didn’t even consider the college I ended up choosing because I thought the cost was prohibitive, but after going over the totals at other top choices, I ended up applying after all. There were so many ways to apply for scholarships and grants, whether directly through the school, or through organizations in the community. (I’ve even heard of people who applied for scholarships they didn’t qualify for, only to find out no one else had bothered applying, so they received the money for that year.) Cost can be prohibitive, but there are lots of ways to manage it.
Housing is always a tricky thing to consider. More often than not you’re comparing apples with oranges. Dorm rooms can come in many sizes and arrangements and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Some things to consider are how many people share one room with its own door/lock, and how many share a bathroom. If the bathrooms are in the hall, one might even need to consider how the halls are arranged, whether they are segregated by gender or not. It’s all about what feels comfortable, uncomfortable but livable, and over the line. After all, no one wants to be an unwelcome guest in their own room.
Coming from a home-schooled background, I found myself much less comfortable at the large State schools, with class sizes in the hundreds, than at private ones closer to the size of a high school. This wasn’t just a matter of my comfort, but a matter of how being a single member of a large class might impact my studies. I would much rather be a big fish in a small pond then a small fish in a big pond.
College isn’t just for learning in the classroom, being able to take part in less structured or student led events and activities, or anything that could be considered non-academic, is part of the experience. There are many clubs available at most colleges, and if it isn’t easy to tell that from the outside, chances are you won’t prioritize them once you’re in school. I loved learning about the different opportunities at the schools I visited for things like drama and music even if they weren’t going to be part of my studies.
Each school each school will try and tell you they are special, and for one reason or another they may be. One of the schools I visited, that I know my cousin considered particularly because of this feature, had a circus students could participate in. I also considered a school for its proximity to a Renaissance Faire, as well as another for the opportunity to learn the bagpipes. The one that won out had a bonus of being nearby my extended family if I ever needed them.
With all these criteria to consider, it is sure to be a difficult decision. Whatever the final choice is, hopefully it is as excellent of a fit as my school ended up being for me.