Investigating Colleges

You and your college counselor, in conjunction with your family and teachers, will discuss the answers to many of the questions above and then embark upon the process of identifying colleges that might best fit your needs. In order for you and your family to get the most information possible about colleges under consideration, you need to look beyond the traditional information provided by the schools themselves. Viewbooks and web sites are both good places to begin your search, but they only go so far in presenting the full picture of any college or university. To begin, ask yourself the following fundamental questions about the type of community in which you would like to spend the next four years:

  • What type of environment do you like best? Urban, rural or suburban? Does the college have a self-contained campus or is the campus part of the city? Is the college close to a major city? Transportation? Cultural opportunities?
  • Would you feel better about a small liberal arts college or large, comprehensive university? Somewhere in between?
  • Where is the best location for you? East Coast? South? West? Midwest? Are you and your parents in agreement on the question of distance?
  • Would you be served best by a service academy? An art or music college? A college or university overseas? A school with religious foundations?
  • Which schools offer the major or fields of study in which you are interested.
After you’ve considered the questions above, look at individual colleges with the following questions in mind:
  • What is the college’s mission?
  • How is the college unique?
  • What is the average class size for introductory or general education courses taken by the first and second year students. (As opposed to the overall "student-faculty ratio.")
  • Who teaches first-year students? What percentage of intro courses are taught by professors, rather than grad school assistants?
  • Are classes conducted in lectures or seminar?
  • How much time do professors set aside for office hours?
  • Is each student assigned a personal advisor? What is the frequency of contact between the student and his or her advisor?
  • Does the college guarantee on-campus housing for first year students?
  • What fields of study are well recognized or distinctive in terms of their nature or content of their courses?
  • Is there a study abroad option?
  • Is there an honors program?
  • What is the academic calendar like? Is there an opportunity for summer study?
  • What kinds of leadership opportunities are available?
  • Does the school offer internships or co-op programs?
  • Do the residence halls offer educational programs?
  • What kinds of services does the college offer in terms of career and graduate school counseling? 

    (Some of this material has been adapted from Identifying Educational Quality: College Choice Guidelines for Students, Parents, and Counselors by Dr. Joseph B. Cuseo)
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