While hearsay is often a great way to get started on your college list, it’s very important to do your own research on the colleges you’re thinking of applying to. Other people, including your counselor, can give you an idea of what a college is like, but the most thorough evaluation of a school comes from research on your own.
#1. Visit the school website. I would recommend visiting the school’s website first to get an overview of the school. The website will usually give you a summary of each aspect of the school: clubs and organizations, academic departments, stats, campus life, financial aid, etc.; it’s likely that the website will most advertise the stronger points of their school, be it a program or a department, but it is just a stepping stone to more intensive research. It is often a good idea to check out any online publications, such as online newspapers, to get insight on what issues or events students and faculty focus on – you might also learn some useful information only a member of the school community would be more likely to be privy to.
#2. Do online research. Some school websites, or other websites (Unigo is such a site that I used my senior year of high school) made specifically to give a brief summary of colleges for applicants such as yourself, may have virtual school tours you can check out – a quick search on Google will likely pull up results. There are frequently online forums in which current or former students will answer questions about their schools that other curious students, or parents, will ask. Try to get a variety of accounts, though, because the college experience is different for each individual!
#3. Talk to members of the school community. Don’t be shy about getting in contact with a current student or an alum (although a current student is better), ask basic questions like what campus and academic life is like, and ask more specific questions tailored to your needs and preferences: maybe what a certain department you are interested in is like and what resources and opportunities you have access to. If your school has an alumni network, utilize it! You can even try getting in contact with an admissions officer to learn more, or email faculty if you have more department/major/academic-specific questions.
#4. Visit. It is, of course, most beneficial to go visit the school in person to really know what kind of school it is. You’d be surprised by how much just the atmosphere of a school may tell you about whether you’d like to consider it as an option on your list! The location of a school shouldn’t be overlooked, either – weather affects many students’ moods to a surprising degree. In addition, simply the amount of physical space or material resources allocated to a certain department, program, or aspect of the school can tell you how much funding or support it receives. Say you’re interested in an art program; if all the space allocated to this program is a couple of rooms in a building, that’s something you should consider about whether this school would be a worthwhile investment for your interests or potential career path. You’ll also likely get a better feeling for whether you will enjoy your time on campus.
#5. Know what’s important to you. Really think about what your priorities in your college education are, and weigh the pros and cons of each school according to those. In general (this does not necessarily apply to all schools), larger schools, such as the UCS, will have more majors, activities and organizations, and facilities, which might be more favorable for those interested in research, but they are better for those who have a more concrete idea of what they want to study. Classes will have hundreds of students, and chances are, your professors won’t know you and your learning experiences are less hands-on and intimate. On the other hand, smaller schools are great for those who thrive in smaller classes, and you have more opportunities to develop close relationships with your professors and advisors; there may also be a stronger sense of community because of the size of the student body. However, most small colleges do not have access to the large facilities bigger schools do, and it is likely they do not host sporting or social events of the same magnitude as their larger counterparts. Think about what kind of experience you want to shape in your future school!