• Amba Brown

What Should High School Students Look for When Selecting an Undergraduate College

Transitioning from high school to college is a major step in any young person’s life. It often marks the first real taste of independence, with big and small daily decisions left to the new college student.


It is important to find the right fit when deciding where to go to college for an undergraduate degree. Here are a few things to consider while making the decision.


Location, location, location

Do you envision yourself in a rural community or an urban setting? Do you thrive on the high-energy that comes with going to college in (or near) a big city or do you need the tranquility of small-town life to do your best?


Excellent undergraduate colleges are located in just about every type of city, town, and community. It is important to think about what is the best fit for you and your goals. If you dream of being a marine biologist, you will probably need to focus your search on a school near the water. For aspiring business professionals, proximity to a large city with a thriving economy is more important.


A few online and in-person resources are available to help you get a better feel for your potential new home.

  • University website: Most include information about the surrounding area, including potential places to live, study, work, and have fun.

  • Chamber of Commerce: The city’s Chamber of Commerce and tourism office can provide information about local businesses, attractions, and the area’s demographics.

  • College visits: Nothing can replace seeing the area in person. Try to visit the school’s campus and spend some time in the surrounding community to see if it feels like home. Some schools even offer overnight visits or the chance to sit in on a class.


Class size

Bigger schools often come with more resources and state-of-the-art facilities. It also means a larger alumni network that can come in handy after graduation and throughout your working life.


On the other hand, small schools can be more personal and allow students to develop deeper relationships with professors. When it comes time for job or internship recommendations, knowing your professors may mean the difference between acceptance and rejection at that dream job or graduate school.


Think about which factors are more important for you and which fit your style of learning best.


Post-college paths and employment

College provides a variety of benefits and opportunities for growth to students, but the ultimate reason that most pursue a college education is the addition job prospects available after graduation.


Ask the admissions office for statistics on post-graduation employment. This can include how many graduates have full-time employment, how many pursue advanced degrees, and what fields have the most success. Do the paths of recent graduating classes not line up with your goals? Then the school may not be the right one for you.


Classes and programs offered

Before getting your heart set on a school, make sure that they offer a degree program in your desired field. Most schools have similar programs (liberal arts, math and science, engineering) but don’t take that for granted. This is especially true if you want to pursue something specialized. Look through the online course catalog and academic tabs to make sure.


In addition to providing the standard basic curriculum, every university is known for a specific field of study.


It is not a necessity to attend the most prestigious school within your field of study. You can get an excellent education at lesser-known institutions. But be prepared to need a little bit more initiative to seek out top internships or networking opportunities. Schools that are better known have the name recognition that can give you a boost when it comes to finding a job or getting accepted to a graduate or PhD program.


Cost and financial aid

The money conversation is an important one to have before selecting an undergraduate college.


You should also look closely at the financial aid package and scholarships that each school can offer. A degree from an expensive, prestigious school might not be essential in your chosen profession. Taking out student loans that will take years to pay off will limit your options and increase your stress after graduation.


If a particular school is the best fit but comes with a high cost, seek out scholarships to help pay for the cost of your education. Common places to look include:

  • Local service organizations

  • Interest-based scholarships

  • Parents’ employers or professional networks

  • Professional organizations related to your field of study

  • Private endowments through the university


Deciding on an undergraduate college is a big decision. There are a lot of factors to consider that can help you decide where to apply and ultimately attend. These include the size of the classes, school, and community, as well as the programs and financial incentives offered. The best thing to do is consider how each school fits your personality, preferences, and goals.



Written by JASON PATEL, Former Career Ambassador at the George Washington University and Founder, Transizion.


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