Choosing a college/university is one of the most important decisions high school students all over the world have to make. By this time, you have prepped and completed SAT, worked hard to maintain an average, researched schools and programs. I remember thinking that all those things were the hardest part (except the SAT because I never took it), but in reality, choosing the school can be the most difficult component to your future.
Two years ago I was in my final year of high school and was trying to decide what university to attend for the next 4 years. At this time all offers had been sent out and the time had come where I had to make the final decision; I was stressed, to say the least. It is a big commitment to choose a school, a program, a new city, and new people to spend 4 years at. Although my first 2 years had flown by, at the time, 4 years felt like a lot. The last thing I wanted to do was regret what I had chosen.
I put this post together to help senior students decide the university/college that is right for them!
Consider the Location
After you have all your offers, it’s time to consider what I call the “BIG Factors” in choosing the school. The first one being location, location, location! If you have chosen schools all across the country, you should weigh the factor of distance. Are you comfortable being away from family? Do you like the city? Do you know anyone in the city? Do you see yourself living the lifestyle of the people who live there?
I go to school 6 hours away from home and in a much larger city than my hometown, but that is what I wanted. I desired something different and I really enjoyed living in the capital city. Now, it would have been nice for someone to tell me there were going to be times of stress where I wanted to come home to mom and dad, eat a decent home-cooked meal, and really hate the winters. Nevertheless, the location and the opportunities within it outweighed those factors. Although it would have been easier to have been closer to home, I don’t think I would have learned all the life lessons of managing life on my own.
Money is a very important factor in going to school because the truth is; it is expensive. Research the cost of living in the city, the cost of residence on campus, transportation, textbooks and tuition. Out of state/province/or country is more expensive than staying in your current residency. If you can commute and save money on housing by living at home, would you be interested in that?
After the research, calculate scholarships, bursaries, and financial aid. You should also determine if you would want to do a graduate degree after school and how much that would cost. Research the interest, cost and fees for a student loan as a bank vs regional financial aid such as OSAP (for those living in Ontario).
Going to a school for an undergrad that is way out of budget will cause more harm than good. All you will do is stress about money, costs, and income when really, you should be focusing on school.
The Program/ Area of Study
The other “Big factor” is what you’re going to study. Just as a general rule, do not pick a program based on the fact that you think that the job it will lead to will make you lots of money because the truth is you will be HELLA miserable. If you are studying things you don’t like, you won’t have the motivation and your grades will drop. I have seen it in many of my friends and those who had switched programs are very grateful they had. You are not going to make lots of money in something you don’t like and therefore aren’t good at.
Your university experience will be less than positive if your feeling upset that you can’t succeed because you’re constantly trying to make something fit that doesn’t. Look at the program courses that are offered and visualize yourself in the class talking and engaging with the material, if you like it then you know it will be for you.
See if your school offers co-op and internships and how many students have graduated from the program and what they have gone on to complete. That being said, the university will flex the number of graduates that got jobs after the degree but don’t let the numbers convince you the program is the right choice for you. Maybe the jobs that that grad’s got, aren’t the ones you see yourself in. It is important to see your goals and evaluate what you need to get there.
The Atmosphere of the School
To me, this is the biggest factor because it determines whether you fit in at the school and the people within it. I wanted a school that was laid back, a smaller campus, class sizes and program where the professors engaged with students and never talked down to them. I have to say that my university has lived up to all of the things listed above.
As yourself: Do I see myself on this campus just being myself. If you are comfortable going to a school where people prioritize business attire for class and enjoy a more professional environment than go to the school where you see that. Or if you are like me, and want to dress nice one day but also have the option of a laid back style and not run the risk of being judged or sticking out, choose the place that suits those ideals. Research what they prioritize regarding sports life, greek life, student involvement, academically focussed, cultural clubs or academic clubs and societies. Choose the areas that are most important to you and in turn, the most important to the school.
Those were my four major things but below I listed a few things to consider when making your decision.
Don’t Pick a School for its Prestige
If you like the most prestigious school because it works for you then go for it! However, choosing a school based solely on prestige or a legacy in your family may not always work outright. If you don’t like the campus, the social life, the size of your program or just the overall vibe of the school then don’t go! It is really important you choose a school right for you. The truth is, no one really cares where you get your undergrad from. Yes, University of Toronto and Queens could definitely open up some doors but don’t let that be the decision-maker, especially if you have fallen in love with another school
Big Fish Small Pond
This is a personal thing but I only really looked at universities that were smaller in size and had smaller programs. For example, I knew I wanted to eventually go to law school so degree’s in criminology, political science or policy would be of interest to me but I narrowed it down to smaller programs. I decided on my university and their legal studies program because I wanted to study law and have the opportunity to not just be a number in class but an actual person to my professors. I am very thankful for that decision as it paid off because I became a research assistant in my first year and had many opportunities due to the big fish small pond idea.
Types of Classes
Being a high school student you already have an idea of how you learn. Take note of that and research if your classes would be lecture, seminar, and tutorial-based. Then you can decide what you are looking for out of your classes. If you like discussions than seminars and tutorials would be great for you! Or if you prefer smaller lab classes with a more hands-on approach than a school that offers a lot of opportunities in labs is for you.
If you need or want a job during school, I recommend applying for student jobs at your school. Ask to see how many students are employed at your school and how they allow flexible schedules. It is a great way to make cash while also getting involved. Check to see if your faculty lab or office hires students to perform research projects and gain some valuable hands-on experience in your field
Type of Education
Prestigious schools might have the best reputations since most have been around a long time, but don’t just trust the legacy, do some research. I found out most of the professors in my faculty practiced or have practiced law and that was really important to me. I wanted to be taught by people with experience and not just research into the topic of study. So far I have been taught by judges, private-sector lawyers, criminal defence lawyers, a crown attorney, a human rights lawyer and an administrative lawyer and they all work at a school that has only been around for 75ish years. It is important to look at what kind of education you are getting and who you are getting it from.
Safety on Campus
Research all your school policy on safety and programs that are offered on campus to assist students in safety. It is important you feel safe on campus.
I really recommend living on campus! If that interests you, try to take a tour of the residence buildings, the amenities such as dining, study rooms, residence security, and room styles. Make sure you also check the cost and then weigh the pros and cons of each school.
P.S make sure when choosing the school they take YOU into account. Ask about living accommodations such as curfew floors, health and counselling within the building, effective roommate matching, or alcohol-free floors (this may be important to you if you live in an area where the drinking age is 18 or 19).
Accommodation and Student Services
Mental health is very important when it comes to student life so please do your research in what accommodations are given to you if you have a learning disability, physical disability, or any other health concerns. Read articles about what services the school offers for you, how they care for their students, is ait a welcoming and accepting environment. You are not just a student paying to go there but a person who may need assistance and guidance during your time there.
Flash forward to today and I am happy with my decision to attend and study where I am. Not all days are fun or easy at school, but it helps that I feel comfortable where I am and the atmosphere I am surrounded by
I hope these tips have been helpful for you and that they help make your decision to choose a school a bit easier. I totally understand it is a big decision, so make sure it is the one that feels right to you!