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What to Look for When Choosing a College

February 15, 2018

College. As a high school student, you’ll either love the idea, hate it, or won’t care. Some students decide not to attend college at all, but if you’re part of the majority of those who do, consider these tips I’ve learned as a senior who has recently been through the process of applying. Hopefully, they’ll make the challenging task of choosing a college slightly easier.


1. Narrow down the possible locations

Location plays a major role in where you decide to attend. In the beginning of my search, I only looked at colleges close to home. I didn’t want to go too far because I have never liked being far from home.

But in my junior year of high school, I found out about a clinic in Ohio where I could train with Olympic gold-medalist Melanie Smith Taylor for show jumping. Going to this event opened my eyes to Otterbein University, which, along with the University of Findlay (also in Ohio), is currently in my top three colleges. So if you have a particular interest or planned area of study, you may want to consider a college outside your normal comfort zone.

The second location aspect to consider is what type of geographical setting you prefer. Is it urban or rural? Is it near a big city? For example, a big pro on my list for Otterbein is that it is a 24- minute drive from Columbus, Ohio. This means that I will be able to go to Columbus to shop and eat  whenever I want to. Meanwhile, one con for Findlay is that it is nearly 50 miles from a big city, so if I go there I won’t have a lot to do outside the campus.

2.  Activities

College activities can range from social events to sports to clubs. Sports are a big part of many students’ lives, so many choose schools which offer them the best opportunities for their sport. I only toured colleges with equestrian teams, and I only have IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) colleges in my top schools rather than  NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) because IHSA teams are a lot more easygoing and not as competitive or focused on winning.

Social life is a major part of many students’ college experiences. Some colleges do weekly events (and a few even require a minimum amount of participation per semester), while others don’t offer any official activities at all. You can get an idea of what a particular college offers online, but asking graduates or current attendees of a school will give you a much better idea of what to expect.

Another thing to look for is whether the school offers fraternities or sororities if that is something you are interested in joining. As you’re doing your college search, decide whether you want frequent social events or not so you know what questions to ask about campus life. The best way to do this is to determine whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, because this plays a big part in what kind of night life you’ll want.

3. Tuition

The cost of tuition is a major concern in a college search. Part of this ties into location because out-of-state colleges are often more expensive than in-state colleges. For students who have to pay for their own education, tuition cost is a huge factor. For many, the less they have to pay, the more attractive the school.

Also, a part of the cost that you should look out for is how much you’ll have to pay for room and board, dining, etc. Being able to live at home and save on room and board is a major reason so many students choose to start their college career at a local community college and then transfer.

4. Scholarships

Scholarships should be part of any tuition search since they can greatly lower the cost of your college experience. As you look, you should apply for both scholarships specific to the school and scholarships that are relevant everywhere.

Another thing to ask when you tour a school is how your outside scholarships will be added to the ones that the school may give you. Most colleges will add the two so that you’ll have extra scholarship money and lower tuition, but some will take away the amount of the outside scholarship from what they have offered you, so the two cancel each other out. If you go to a school which does the latter, the only way for you to get more scholarship money than what the school has given you is to get enough outside scholarships to cover full tuition and board, which in most cases would be extremely difficult.

5. Application Fee

Also tying into the financial factor, but less of a big deal to most people, is the application fee. Some colleges charge application fees, so unless you’re seriously interested in attending a school or just want to be able to brag about getting into multiple schools, only apply to somewhere you’d actually be willing to go.

While many colleges offer free applications, the average application fee is about $37, with the highest application fee being $90 at Stanford University.

6. Size

This is one of those things that you just know. If you tour a big or small university, you’ll know which size you prefer, oftentimes right away. Some people like the bigger schools where they can just stay in the background and get lost in the crowd, while others prefer the one-on-one environment of a smaller college where they can form a more personal relationship with their professors.

Keep in mind that, in general, the bigger the school, the more options for majors they’ll have. They may not seem like an issue at first, but ask yourself: If I decide to change my major mid-stream, will they have other options I’d find of interest?

7. Car on Campus?

For an equestrian like me, being able to have a car on campus was an important part of my college search. Most colleges do not have a barn on campus, even if they have a riding team, so a car will be how I can commute to and from the barn.

A lot of colleges I visited did allow cars on campus, but some did not let freshmen have a car– only upperclassmen. So I immediately struck such colleges off my list.

8. Pets

Last, but definitely not least, consider whether the college allows pets on campus. This is most important for students who require an emotional support animal for depression, anxiety, stress disorders, or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Colleges are technically required to allow students to have Emotional Support Animals (ESA) in their dorms due to the Fair Housing Act, but most require proof that you need one. For example, Otterbein makes you fill out a form answering questions about your situation and how your pet improves your productivity.

Findlay, on the other hand, only allows service animals (like seeing eye dogs), not necessarily ESA’s. To take an ESA to college, it is not always necessary to register it, but you will usually need a note from a professional counselor or therapist.


Overall, choosing what college is right for you isn’t easy. But considering the tips I’ve noted will greatly ease your trouble, making the experience more enjoyable and getting you more excited for life after high school.

I am currently leaning towards attending Findlay because they allow students in the Pre-Vet program to start working with animals in their first year, rather than their third  year like most colleges. I am also going to tour a few more colleges in Virginia, like Randolph and Emory & Henry, but I’m not quite sure if it will change my mind on where to go.

For a great place to get started in finding the college that is right for you, go to the College Board.


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