Starting today, I am running a year long series for students who are going into post secondary education this September. I will be releasing a new post on the 5th of each month, which will be specifically targeted to the phase that a lot of students will be in at the time. This month’s topic is…
Choosing a University!
I know there are a lot of posts out there telling people what to include in their spreadsheets and documents. I thought I would make a post sharing what I think are the most important factors to consider, versus which ones are overrated. This is purely based on my own experiences and the experiences of my friends, so everything in it might not apply equally to everyone. (Sorry this post is going to be long as hell).
Most Important Factors
These are the things that I believe are so important that they can make or break your decision to go to a school.
- Major: To me, this is the most important thing you should consider when choosing a school. If they don’t offer your prospective major, you should think really hard about going there. It may feel like you are settling for a major you don’t want before you even start, which is a shitty feeling. Also, because a lot of people change their minds about what they want to major in, it may be wise to make sure there are two or three faculties the school offers that interest you.
- Financial aid: This one is definitely second on my list because it can kind of make the decision for you. If your dream school is way out of your budget and doesn’t have a good financial aid package, you may want to start looking elsewhere.
- Location: Being close to family and friends is way underrated when you are going into first year. A lot of people think that because you are entering post-secondary, its time to completely grow up and leave your family and hometown behind. But this can backfire! If you are really close to your family and friends at home, love where you live, etc. location can be a big factor.
- First year retention rate. This is the one statistic that I think can show a lot about a school. If a lot of people transfer out after first year, it can be a bit of a red flag.
- The type of people and atmosphere. This might seem not as important, but knowing the type of school that you are going to be in is crucial to understanding if you will fit in there in the future. I suggest looking into whether or not it is a party school, if it is fiercely academic and very competitive, whether it is a diverse school with international students, whether students tend to have part-time jobs. These kind of things can give you a sense of whether or not you will fit in.
These are the things that I think can help you make a decision, but shouldn’t be the basis of one. Think of these as added bonuses.
- Extra-curriculars. Unless you are deeply devoted to a certain sport or club and intend to pursue it throughout uni and into adulthood, the specific of extracurriculars offered probably doesn’t need to make or break your decision. As long as a school has a wide variety of clubs, teams, and other opportunities, you will likely find something to join.
- Things to do in the area. Unless you are heading out into an unpopulated area, there will be things to do wherever you go. Most cities that are big enough to have a university will also have some shopping, a movie theater, a few bars, and some restaurants. A lot of students don’t have time or money in first year to be going out every single night anyways.
- Where you can get a job. Like above… if it is a university town, there will be part time jobs available. Even if you can’t transfer from your current job or your dream job isn’t available in the town, you can likely find some source of income.
- Prestige. A lot of people fall into the trap of looking at rankings of the best schools in the country or the world. These can be a good indicator of if a school or program is well-liked and well-funded, but they can also get into your head. If you are in love with a school and it doesn’t have a top ranking, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good school or you won’t be able to get a job. Try to take rankings with a grain of salt.
- Average class size. This is one stat that is hard to deal with because typically, class sizes get smaller as you get older. First year classes will be bigger than the average listed and fourth year ones will be smaller.
- Quality of the dorms. I have to be real here: most dorms are shitty. Also, at a lot of schools there are two or three luxurious buildings and twice as many dumps. You only have to live there for a year! Don’t let ugly looking dorms push you away or let super fancy dorms pull you in.
These are factors that I think should be tagged on as bonuses at the end of your decision, not factors that are included in making it.
- The look of the campus. I go to a university with one of the most beautiful campuses that I have ever stepped foot on. But the truth is, it doesn’t affect how you learn or how good your life is. I don’t wake up in the morning and gaze at the historic buildings and the fall foliage. Once you have lived there for a month, the allure of a stunning campus can wear off.
- Where your significant other is going. If you and your partner happen to choose the same school, that’s great! However, if you choose a school specifically because they are going there, it might end in disaster. I have friends who made this choice and their relationships ended within weeks of getting to school. You don’t want to have regrets because you made a choice based off of someone besides yourself!
- The admission rate. If you meet the requirements for admission, don’t stress out about being accepted. I remember looking at my school’s admission rate of 41% and being so stressed, despite the fact that I had grades well above the requirements and extra-curriculars and awards on top of that. Don’t let it stress you!
- Where your parents went. This is similar to the significant other issue listed above. Going to your parents alma mater can be amazing, but if you don’t already like the school, don’t let that be a persuading factor.
- Whether or not the people on campus are attractive. I have seen so many articles saying that if you take a campus tour and don’t see any super hot people, you should reconsider. This makes no sense??? There is no way that you will go to a school and not see a single person that you find attractive. Like… no.
- How good the professors are. If you read bad reviews about certain profs or really good reviews about others, don’t let that sway you. You might not even end up ever having that prof. You could get that prof and have an experience completely different than the reviews. If there is overwhelming evidence that the entire staff is horrible, maybe consider that. But when it comes to just a few profs you read about online… try to let it go.
I know this isn’t an exhaustive list of everything there is to consider, but these were just the thoughts that came to my mind based on own experience. As always, different things work for different people.