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Must Have Items On Your College List – Part I

Last week, I talked about how to build a great college list. Over the next two weeks, I’d like to take it a bit further and talk about some of the “must haves” you should consider as you research schools and build a great college list. Today, in Part I, I’m going to cover campus size, location, majors and student life.

Campus Size
Size matters, right? You bet it does! For example, a large public university like UConn has an undergraduate student enrollment of nearly 18,000. That’s a big school though not nearly as big as Ohio State where 43,000 undergrads attend!  And that also means that a lot of freshmen courses are likely to be taught in large lecture halls – we’re talking 200 students or more in a class here. The other downfall is that these courses will often be taught by TA’s instead of tenured faculty. Why? Because at large research universities, there is more focus on research and graduate programs – not undergraduate instruction.

Think about what kind of classroom experience you want to have as well as what kind of relationship you would like to have with your professors. If you want smaller class sizes, instructors you will get to know and form relationships with, then you will want to think about smaller schools. The University of New Haven (4,600 undergrads), Fairfield University (3,800 undergrads) and Providence College (3,800 undergrads) are examples of schools where classes are smaller and taught by faculty instructors.

Stay home or go far away? Tired of your small town? Feeling like you want to go out and explore the world a bit? I get it. I also get that sometimes the greater world is so unfamiliar that students who do go far away end up transferring to a school closer to home after their first semester.

Help yourself out now by thinking about what it means to go away to college. Is it important to you to be close to your family or are you okay with just talking to them by phone, email or Skype? When you do want to go home, how will you get there? Is your college near an airport or train station? Travel expenses, especially flights, are very real and need to be factored into the “how much is this school going to cost us?” equation.

For some of you this will be an easy one. If you want to go into mechanical engineering, nursing or video game design then you search for schools with these majors. But, if you’re like me when I was in high school and you have no idea what you want to do, it can get a little more complicated.

If you’re not sure what you want to do, you have a couple choices. First, you could always contact a counselor you know to help identify your VIPS – your values, interests, personality style and skills. Once you have a better handle on what you’re good at, what you’re interested in and why, you can concentrate your search on majors that are more likely to be good fits for you.

Your other option is to apply to colleges as an undeclared major. If this is the route you choose, you need to make sure (Note: NEED, not WANT) you consider schools which will provide you with options and the resources to explore them. Sometimes, taking some time to figure it out can be the best cause of action. Just don’t take too long. Some programs can only be completed in four years if you take the right courses in the right sequence from day one. Delaying that start could mean a fifth year or more of college and more money out of your pocket for tuition and fees.

Student Life
“I transferred because the school turned out to be a suitcase campus.”

This is what a student recently told me about why she was transferring out of the school that, as recently as this time last year, was her dream school. The school she had fallen in love with (without ever visiting once prior to applying) had a very small residential population and she found out the hard way that, due to its rural location, there wasn’t a lot to do on the weekends. She wanted more out of her college experience and was moving back to Connecticut to lick her wounds and start over.

College life is a balance of working hard and playing hard. Problem is I see so many students focus on what majors a school offers while neglecting to form an opinion about the social life on campus. There’s two ways to correct this problem. First, while you’re on a campus tour, ask questions about student activities and social events but ask them in a way that earns you a valuable answer. For example, asking your tour guide an open-ended question like, “Can you tell us a little about  what you’ve done over the last couple weekends?” is going to tell you a whole lot more about campus life than asking a closed-ended question like “Is there a lot to do on the weekends?”

Get details, not “yes” or “no” answers.

You also want to pay attention to flyers and announcements that are hung up around campus. What kinds of events are happening and would you be interested in going? If you are, talk to someone from the admissions office to see if you can attend as a non-student. Chances are this is a very easy “yes” on their part, but it’s always a good idea to demonstrate your interest. In other words, you’re showing the college that you want them just as much as you hope they want you. Plus, there is no better way to feel out the social climate of a school than to jump right in and try it out yourself.

The other way to gather information, especially if you don’t have the opportunity to visit in person, is to read the student reviews on College Prowler and Unigo. Both allow college students to upload reviews of their schools, the topics of which range from accessibility of faculty to how much students party throughout the week.

Next week, we’ll talk about types of admission, chance of admission, graduation rates and cost.

If you have any questions about building a great college list, please use the comment box below – I would love to hear from you!

You can also email me directly at


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