5 Things to Think About when Choosing a College

The following is a direct copypasta from a Quora answer I gave earlier today in response to the question: When choosing a college, you can only know 5 things about it. What would they be?

  1. Rigor of your Program: You want to make sure you get the most out of your college experience by learning the absolute most you can. You don’t want to walk out having done the bare minimum. Schools that have a reputation for being brutal and difficult, that’s where you want to be. College is a place to be challenged. You should feel well prepared for grad school or the workforce or whatever life throws at you. Look at the type of research that’s coming out of a school in your field of interest. See what kind of opportunities for outside-of-the-classroom learning the university provides. Talk to current students about how well their education prepares them.
  2. Location of University: I feel sometimes people don’t pay nearly enough attention to the location of your school. Your school’s location will be one of the biggest factors of your college experience. I, for example, being a EE/CS student, benefit tremendously from going to school in the Bay Area. If you wanted to go into finance, NY is the place to be. Political Science? Probably DC. You get the point. Now this is just my personal opinion, the worst place you could be is in the middle of no where. Not to offend anyone, but by going to schools like UIUC and Cornell, you’re essentially isolating yourself from the outside world, for networking, learning, and exploration purposes. You don’t necessarily need to be in a major city, but at least be within reasonable commute of it such that you have the opportunities that it provides.
  3. Diversity of programs: Your undergraduate is a time for exploration. While having an amazing program in your field is important, you also want to be able to take a variety of classes in other fields. A school like CalTech for example, while it is exemplary in its STEM fields, is simply lacking in the humanities and social sciences, things I would not want my undergraduate experience to be without. Make sure you take a breath of classes, you can go for depth in grad school!
  4. Cost of School: College prices today are absurd. You don’t want to go to school, just to be paying back student debt for the rest of your life. Look at the tuition of your school. Apply for financial aid and scholarships to offset costs. If your state has a public school that passes the other criteria, and then definitely give it solid consideration; in-state tuition, and oftentimes even out-of-state, is almost always cheaper than private. Finally, look a little deeper. Sometimes cost is dependent on some nuanced things that often times people don’t consider. For example, although I got no financial aid or scholarships from my school, the UCs give hella AP credit, which is allowing me to graduate in 3 years, saving me ~$50K!
  5. Prestige of school/program: Prestige matters. Your college brand is something you will carry without you for the rest of your life. And yes, while it is true that the majority of a school’s prestige is derived from its graduate programs, “trickle down prestige” is most definitely a thing. Having world class professors and research at your school, opens connections and opportunities for undergraduates as well. Also, while prestige of the university is important, I am of the personal opinion that the prestige of the program is just as important. For example, while the Ivies are great, you probably would want to steer clear for most engineering majors. In the same regard, MIT is probably not the best place to be an English major. Steer away from the U.S. News National University Rankings, instead look at their program specific ones to get a better understanding of a school’s ranking in a field.