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Making super important life decisions is never easy.  I can’t even pick what I want to eat for dinner, how am I supposed to know what I want to do for the rest of my life and where I want to learn how to do it?  Choosing the right college to attend ranks high on this important decision list, and if you are approximately 18 years old, it may actually be the hardest decision you’ve had to make.  (Deciding where to go for after-prom doesn’t count.) Even if you are now a college senior, you may be considering grad school, forcing you to choose a school all over again.

What I am about to say may sound cheesy.  In fact, it is cheesy, but sometimes, cheesy is the best — like anytime that cheese is melted and slapped on a slice of pizza.  I digress.  The overall best piece of advice I can give you is to enroll in whichever school makes you feel like you belong.  I know, I know.  Lame.  But seriously, even if School A has an awesome gym, beautiful current students, great-looking sandwiches in the cafeteria and pretty classrooms, can you see yourself spending 2-4+ years there? Maybe School A also has gigantic classes and professors that rely too much on TAs.  School B may have less aesthetically pleasing facilities, but does that cancel out the nice, well spoken professors and the great (insert cool academic program here) program you would love to join? Probably not.

I admit, that was a pretty broad nugget of advice, so I’ll break it down:

1. Visit. (No, really. Visit!)

Visiting a bunch of colleges can really seem like a hassle.  You might have to take time off school/work, it might cost some money, and the open houses might be terribly boring.  Honestly, it is worth it.  Even if you do an endless amount of research, you really have to see it for yourself.  Don’t trust everything you see on the Internet.  You might be in love with a school on paper, only to arrive on campus and immediately change your mind.  Sometimes it is the color of the buildings, or the attitude of the faculty, but you just might hate it.

Whatever things you absolutely want or don’t want in a school, you have to scope things out first hand.  And if you are worried about the cost of visiting, contact the Admissions office. Sometimes schools may offer travel stipends for admitted students (I know some law schools do, too.) It never hurts to ask.

2. Talk to current students.

Do talk to current students, but do so when you can corner them without a faculty member being present.  You don’t want the student tour guide’s scripted description of the school, you want information about their real experience. If the open house/admitted students day/tour you are attending gives you the opportunity to talk to a current student when they aren’t being watched by Big Brother, then take advantage of it.  Ask them what it is really like to be a student there; unless they have been totally brainwashed, they will probably give you some honest answers.  Nobody knows the college experience better than an actual student.

3. Ask yourself: do they want you to want them?

My apologies if you hate this song, but really, it perfectly captures how a prospective college should make you feel.  Do they give off the vibe that it should be your honor for them to let you attend their school?  Or does the school make you feel like they really want you to attend, and that the honor would be theirs? I’ve ruled out a lot of schools because they took the first approach, which seems kind of cold. Also, if you aren’t Harvard (or an equivalent) then you should probably check your ego. You want to go to a school that appreciates its students, trust me.


Featured photo via Thinkstock.