Too often, we think of college as the end of an educational journey that has lasted 12 years. When we decide where we are going to apply to college, we often use a very limited number of factors that consider only a small percentage of things that are really important to a college experience. We consider name, reputation, location, size, academic orientation, research opportunities, proximity to a major city, and other factors that our limited experience in selecting colleges tells us are important. Very seldom is the question asked, “Will I be happy at this college?” However, it should be. In all likelihood, the college you ultimately select will be the place that you plant your feet for the next four years. Obviously, happiness should be a critically important factor in your choice of colleges, when you consider that you will be a young adult when you graduate. You want to emerge from college with a positive attitude ready to commit to either graduate school or a career. If college leaves a sour taste in your mouth, you are less likely to have a positive mental attitude going into the next phase of your life. Here are some suggestions to help you choose a college where you will not only benefit from the academic experience but where you will also be happy.
#1 Consider your Priorities
It is simply impossible to predict your happiness at college if you don’t first consider your priorities. Small school or big? City or rural? Strong Greek culture or more community focused? Collaborative or competitive culture? Lectures or small classes? Fun or focused? Single rooms or shared rooms? Coed or unisex dorms? Good meals or mediocre meals? All of these factors are legitimate considerations in your college choices when you prioritize your happiness is a key factor.
#2: Visit Several Colleges
Quite often, visiting a college will inspire a visceral reaction, either positive or negative. You may know within a few minutes whether the college you are visiting is a place you will feel comfortable for the next four years. If possible, attend some classes, speak to a professor or two, and also speak to a few students. Look around and internalize the surroundings. Imagine yourself here already. Do you feel you can comfortably become part of the community here, or would you be more likely to disappear into your dorm night after night, day after day. Is the campus open and inviting? Is it dull or exciting? In any case, does what you see and feel fit into what you want in a college?
Do some research on the colleges you are considering. There are several sources you can use, some of which are little more than college propaganda, and others that are far more objective. By all means, peruse the websites going deep into the choice of majors, the course requirements, the extracurricular activities, and even the food and living options. Look for the things that are important to you, and then find a college that can provide you with those things. Also, look at popular websites such as College Confidential, Reddit, Studentreviews.co, and others. While you should not openly except every review you read, these sites should give you an overall impression of the schools you are considering.
#4: Be Realistic.
Understand what you are giving up. Living a college is, in effect, living in your first apartment. You are not going to have your own room with your own bed in your own home with someone to cook all your meals for you. You will be living on your own. So, don’t try to compare a college living space to where you are now. However, it is perfectly acceptable for you to address issues that are important to you such as privacy, good food, proximity to extracurricular activities, and being surrounded by people you like.
#5 Decide on 5-6 Colleges That will Make You Happy.
Once you have done your research, decide on several colleges that would make you equally happy based on the factors you have chosen as being most important to you. If you set your sights on a single college, the chances for disappointment are greatly enhanced. However, if you spread your options out over five or six colleges, the chances are far greater that you will be able to attend a college that you love, because it meets all of your personal characteristics for a wonderful college experience.
To summarize, you should not feel the least bit guilty considering the kinds of factors that make you happy in a college to be just as important as the academic experience you are likely to receive. This is especially true if you are likely to attend a college that is academically advanced. At the end of a long and hard day, you want to make sure that there are opportunities to nourish your soul, recharge your batteries, and get ready for the academic challenges that lie ahead. After all, college is not only about learning; it is about growing and flourishing as a person. If you choose your colleges wisely, then you will emerge ready to face all the future with excitement and enthusiasm for your chosen subject.
By Neil Chyten