So Many Choices: How to Know Which College Is Right for You
It may surprise you how some students choose a college. Here’s a checklist of some of the common criteria:
~Does the college’s brochure have really cute students on it?
~Were there good parties happening during your overnight visit?
~Is the football or basketball team good?
~Can students get by without going to class every day?
~Do the buildings and campus look like a movie set?
~Does the college’s promotional material say all the things you want to hear (even though you saw no evidence of these things in practice during your visit)?
Okay, you get the picture. In fact, none of these things are very important!
So what does matter? Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions that you will make. It will start you on a path for the rest of your life, so it is critical that you consider the most important things as you weigh your options.
You will find that most of the advice you will read in books and hear from well-meaning friends and other advisors focuses on two things in the college search: Can you get a good job? And will you have fun?
Certainly both of these are very important. College is expensive, and the reality of our modern society is that, for right or wrong, a lot of careers require a college education. And it would be much better if you enjoyed your time in college than if you were miserable!
But you should consider a bigger picture when choosing a college, such as whether you can get a good education, sustain and grow your faith, prepare yourself for a career that fits your talents and calling, and discover or confirm your vocation in life—whether you are called to the married life, the priesthood or religious life, or even the single life.
Finding the right college for you boils down to a few things: 1) who you are and what you need to be successful, 2) what your goals are, and 3) whether your choice of college makes sense given your answers to numbers 1 and 2.
Who you are and what you need to be successful are the keys that should frame your entire college search. And your goals, of course, are important because they will help you narrow down the type of academic and extracurricular offerings you will look for. Below are just a few sets of questions to help you get started on figuring out the type of campus environment that will make your college experience the best it can be.
What is your personality like?
Are you an extrovert or an introvert?
Are you more comfortable being a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?
Will you learn more and succeed in small classes or in larger ones?
Are you self-motivated, or do you need more structure to succeed?
Is it important for you to be anonymous, or do you really need to be held accountable?
In other words, would you be more comfortable at a campus where you didn’t know most of the people in your class, let alone on the entire campus, or at one where you know or at least recognize most of the other students? For some students it is too easy to get lost in the crowd at a larger campus, while for others a smaller campus is too confining.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both large and small campuses, but it really depends on your personality and the type of environment you do best in. And don’t forget to consider the type of campus and its location. There is a big difference between a compact campus located in the heart of a city versus a sprawling campus in a rural area.
Is your faith as strong as a rock, or is it shaky?
Do you prefer a particular kind of liturgical environment, for instance praise and worship or more traditional Masses, to keep you motivated to attend Mass at least every Sunday?
Are you tempted by certain kinds of sins?
And what kind of environment will help you avoid them?
You are blessed that today there are a number of growing, vibrantly faithful Catholic colleges and universities—like those profiled in this publication—that offer not only a terrific education, but also a campus environment that can help you sustain and deepen your faith during your college years. This is important because a number of recent studies have shown that too many students lose their faith in college, and not only that, they spend a hundred thousand dollars or more to do it! That is a high price to pay. On the other hand, gaining the knowledge and answers to life’s deepest questions while at a college that supports your faith will be invaluable to you after graduation and on your path to holiness.
The right college can also help you avoid many types of sin, which are such a problem because we often take pleasure in them—even though they harm our relationship with God and risk our eternal salvation. So while the culture may celebrate some things as “fun”—whether it is gossiping, binge drinking, the hook-up culture, or any other number of things—as a Catholic you know that however “fun” these things seem to be at the time, they are hurting you. It is, therefore, important for you to know your weaknesses and to make sure that you don’t put yourself in a campus environment that will encourage you to give in to them. Or looked at another way, try to put yourself in a campus environment that will help you to be holy!
Do you know the field or course of study you are you interested in, or are you still trying to figure that out?
Are there particular sports, clubs or activities that you definitely want to participate in during college?
If you have had your heart set on being an underwater basket weaver since you were a toddler, and there are only three colleges in the country that offer that degree, then you probably have just a few options. But chances are you have less specific requirements and so have many more options, including choosing a college that provides you with a well-rounded, liberal arts education that not only prepares you for a particular career, but also for life.
Other considerations are the career and graduate school placement services offered at the colleges you are considering. And don’t forget to take a close look at the clubs and other extracurricular activities that are offered to help prepare you for life post-graduation.
Once you have thought about these questions—and others that you will no doubt come up with based on your own unique situation—and contemplated the type of college that would be the best fit for you, it is time to do your homework.
In this case, homework is really digging in and researching the colleges that are on your list. The Internet is a good place to start a search on the various aspects of the colleges that are most important to you, but don’t stop there. Call or e-mail professors or college staff in addition to the admissions officer you will be working with, and think about creative ways to use social media networks to find current students to ask them direct questions about their experiences.
The most important part of your homework, though, involves a field trip—the campus visit! Just like you wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it, you shouldn’t enroll in a college without visiting it, attending classes and staying overnight to make sure that it is a good fit for your particular circumstances. (See our tips for making a campus visit.)
Searching for a college doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does take a lot of thought, soul searching and work. You will spend four years and countless thousands of dollars on whichever college campus you choose, so make sure that it not only helps you start a career but that it also prepares you for life. Take a close look at the colleges recommended in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. You may find just what you are looking for!
Copyright © 2020 The Cardinal Newman Society. Permission to reprint without modification to text, with attribution to author and to The Cardinal Newman Society, and (if published online) hyperlinked to the article on the Newman Society’s website. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Cardinal Newman Society.