If only college were as fun and carefree as shoe shopping! While perhaps buying a new pair of sneakers is smaller stakes and perhaps less nerve-racking, the same basic principles apply. I am currently in the midst of my college admissions process and have visited dozens of schools; and at first the sheer number of schools and facts overwhelmed me. At times, I have felt that I will never find the right school for me, and have spent countless hours stressing over it. But it really doesn't have to be as we make it out to be! I love shoes and when I started looking at the college search process in the same way I look for a new pair of shoes, I found uncanny parallelisms and a wave of relief.
A pair of shoes can showcase your individual style, and when you go shoe shopping you usually gravitate towards something that matches your style. But it's also awesome to take risks and try new things. A college near home can offer a community you already know, and being close to family is appealing. But going somewhere completely new and faraway is just as exciting.
Size is really important! With shoes if the shoe doesn't fit; either it is too small or too big there will be discomfort. Same goes for the college experience- you just have to find the right size for you. And there is no right answer for everyone.
Cost is a factor! I can't dole out $500 on a new pair of sneakers and that is totally cool. There are just as cute, comfy and stylish options available at an array of costs- college is the same way. Higher ed is crazy expensive and student loans are not ideal, so look at schools within your budget and also look at FAFSA to see if you qualify for any aid. Scholarships are also your friend ☺
Usually at the store a representative can be really helpful in answering questions you have about the product. College websites, representatives and current students all have great insights into answering questions about the college.
Just like with shoe shopping you just have to have a general idea of what you're looking for, knowing your size and style (i.e. social scene, academic interests & community) can be helpful but really it's about asking the right people the right questions.
If you already know exactly what you want, having a set of questions and criteria can make weeding out schools that won't fulfill your college dreams much easier. And if you, like me, have a general picture of what I want my college experience to look at, having a general sense of what a college can offer you can help you visualize if you could actually be there for four years.
I break it down into four categories:
From there I took a look at what was important to me and wrote myself questions to go under these subcategories, so that rather than place value on a school having something or not, I could look at the bigger picture of what they offer and what they don't and everything in between.
Here are some of the questions that I ask a school rep. or tour guide either while visiting campus or going to an informational session. Some of these questions can be answered simply with a computer at home, so no need to even leave your comfy bed! Even if you can't make it to campus or an info-session colleges also usually have emails and phone numbers you can call to ask questions, which I have done before. No shame in being curious.
- Where do people relax/chill?
- What is the party culture like?
- Is there a history/ reputation of sexual assault? (This one is especially important to me given that one in five women will experience sexual violence sometime in their lives, and on college campuses it has become a pandemic that even the President has spoken on.)
- What are the class sizes?
- How are student/teacher relationships?
- Do they offer a Mandarin program? (This is specific to what I am looking for but you can substitute it with any academic field of interest you think you'd like to explore more in higher ed.)
- Is study abroad offered? Common?
- What are community traditions?
- What sorts of events get the whole community together?
- How big is sports culture? (I personally have never been particularly interested in sports, and don't think I would be comfortable at a place that was crazy about one particular sport so I always ask this to figure out if I would fit in with the community)
- How big is campus?
- Do students spend most time on campus or off campus?
- What is the climate like?
- How easy is it to get to the airport? (if you live near the college this is probably less important, but if you don't it can just be good to know so you can visualize your experience)