Getting an education is your top priority in college. So how can you sort out what kind of academic experience you want to have?
Whether or not you know what you want to study, you will do better in college if you find the “best college fit.” Here are some things to think about.
What You Will Study
There’s a big difference between choosing a college because it is strong in your major and choosing a college to help you figure out your major. Some colleges have intense four-year major curricula and expect you to dive right in to your studies. Others help you experience different fields, then choose a major.
How You Like to Learn
At many colleges, you start out taking large classes in lecture halls, perhaps accompanied by smaller discussion groups. At other colleges, your classes may be small, offering more personal contact with professors and more interactive and collaborative methods of learning.
Level of Rigor
Academics at highly selective colleges are typically extremely challenging, competitive, and fast-paced. If this academic pressure cooker is your idea of a stimulating learning environment, these colleges may be right for you.
But if you prefer less rigor, less stress, and more nurturing, there are hundreds of other colleges for you to consider. You can still get a fantastic education at these colleges without feeling in over your head.
Perhaps you want to work with well-known instructors, participate in groundbreaking research projects, take on internships, or even study abroad. Maybe you prefer to integrate hands-on work with formal instruction. Make sure your college offers the academic opportunities you want.
The Student-Faculty Ratio
Many students want a low ratio of students to faculty. But (and this is important) the reported ratio may include:
- Classes taught by graduate students
- Part-time faculty
- Faculty who teach no classes
- Huge classes in popular majors
- Small classes in less popular majors
Your Path to a Degree
There are alternative paths to earning college credit, such as internships, cooperative education, or volunteering. You might want to pursue a combined degree (earning two bachelor’s degrees or a master’s and a bachelor’s degree at once). Look for colleges that have the paths you want!
Be honest with yourself about how ready you are to handle the new rigors of college instruction. No matter how well you did in high school, the intensity and freedom of the college academic environment is likely to be challenging. Colleges can help by providing tutoring, study circles, accommodation for students with disabilities, and other support.