Questions to Ask When Choosing a College
By Grayson Harris
The college selection process can seem terribly disorienting. Here are a few tips to keep things in focus!
One of the most difficult things about choosing a college is deciding what to prioritize. How can you decide whether to go to the school where you like the professors, or the school where you have several friends already attending? Colleges are often geared to do one or two things especially well: having a beautiful and well-maintained campus, or a mentorship program, or prestigious internships. I certainly didn’t have a list of my priorities labeled from most to least important (although the least would probably be something like a disc golf course, which we have at Union University).
There is no foolproof method to calculate the importance of every detail. Nonetheless, I have a few simple questions that can help identify whether a certain college is the right place for you.
1. Questions to Ask Admissions
Everyone wants to thrive at their university, but it may not be immediately apparent how many obstacles are in your path. Simply put, you do not want to be halfway through your degree and realize you have no good ways to connect with other students, or an unreasonable amount of debt, or stuck in dorms that are ugly and uncomfortable. Feel free to ask questions like:
“What scholarships are available?”
This question has helped me a lot to achieve an education that frankly, would have been well outside of my means. As a senior, I’m still scanning for available scholarship opportunities on a month-to-month basis. There is no shame in addressing your potential financial limitations; what’s more, you would likely be surprised how much work an admission counselor will do to help you bridge financial gaps. (Sometimes we only think of them as administrative officials, but this is a main focus of their careers!) Writing an essay or filling out an application can be the difference between a costly four years and an education you can afford.
“Would I enjoy my experience living here?”
This will require some different perspectives. Ask other students about what they like (or what bothers them) about their life. Are the bathrooms clean? Is the cafeteria food any good? You need to know whether or not you can be genuinely excited about starting out your adult life on campus. As an added bonus, conversations like this can get you started on connecting with other students.
“What student-run organizations does the college have?”
Of course, admissions is going to put its best foot forward. However, try to find multiple perspectives that confirm the quantity (and quality) of organizations where students can work together to improve themselves, develop their skills, and enjoy their free time. Nothing can feel quite as isolating as the struggle to find like-minded friends, and conversely, finding those compatriots can be one of the most rewarding parts of college.
If you get answers to these questions that are not ideal, keep in mind that one or two annoyances do not constitute an impassable barrier. Uncomfortable dorms? Find a mattress topper and some throw blankets. No student-run clubs that you feel at home in? Start your own! You don’t give up on a college because it’s imperfect; the point here is, don’t ignore a trend of multiple issues stacking up. Ask yourself: Does living on this campus sound like a chore or a privilege? The answer to that question will get you well on your way to deciding whether or not the university is the right fit.
2. Questions to Ask Yourself
Admissions counselors do not bear the full weight of responsibility to ensure that your time is spent wisely. You can profit quite a bit by introspection. Make absolutely certain that your values align with the path you are choosing. These questions go further than helping you enjoy your time at college—they will help you bring actual value to your life.
“Will I be provided with valuable opportunities to improve myself?”
Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that the primary goal of education was to improve intelligence and character. When you look at the classes at the school you’re considering, are you excited? Can you see yourself learning and improving from the opportunities that they offer? You should never have your capabilities stifled. Look for a university with mentors and peers who will be dedicated to improving your competence and confidence going into the rest of your life.
“Will I be challenged?”
As you face your first year at college, you’re probably not worried that life is going to be too easy! But, far too often, that exact problem arises. Nothing is as uniquely draining as a semester of easy classes. Simple busy-work may not frustrate you, but it will also bring you no sense of accomplishment, and it will certainly not have a transformative effect on your life. Make sure that you don’t cruise through college, because that is one of the easiest indicators that you are not learning as much as you could be. Push yourself; you may surprise yourself with what you’re capable of.
“Will this school set me up for the future?”
While your time in college should be exciting and profitable, eventually you’ll have to move on to bigger and better things. You will want to have some clear steps outlined for the next few years. Try to look ahead for those opportunities, even before you’re enrolled. Find out if the school offers internships, career counseling, or connections to industries that you would like to be a part of. If you have something to look forward to after you pick up that diploma, it will make your time in school that much more enjoyable.
These will not be the only important questions for you to ask when picking out a college or university. You may want to ask questions about the town that your school is placed in, like where there is a decent coffee shop or disc-golf course (I won’t judge you too harshly). You need to acknowledge, however, that growth and the challenges that prompt it are what give college meaning and value for your future.
In short—make sure at the start that you’re looking for the right things. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised by some of the answers. I certainly was!
Grayson Harris is a junior in Communication Arts at Union University in Jackson, TN. He writes monthly for Stoa (a homeschoolers’ speech and debate organization) and tutors students in reading at Lindamood-Bell Learning Solutions, located in Nashville. He hopes his writing will encourage readers and clarify their minds for the momentous decisions of life.
Thank you for reading the Journal! If the CLT is new to you and you’d like to get a sense of what we’re doing, you may find this a helpful introduction. If you enjoyed this piece and would like to read more, we have some suggestions to offer! You might take a look at our two-parter on the role of the idea of education in the history of Western thought, or this piece from Journal contributor and schoolteacher Travis Copeland on maintaining a sound attitude toward grading; you might also like our series of intros to the men and women of our Author Bank, featuring names like St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Saga of Erik the Red, Marie de France, Herman Melville, and Langston Hughes. You can also find us broadcasting Anchored, wherever you get your podcasts.
Published on 28th September, 2023.