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1. Know What You Want
Do you know what you want to do in college? Which major? Are you looking to do research, join a company after college, or start your own venture?
Most students have never asked just questions. They don't know what they want to do in life. They are going to college because, well, everyone is doing it.
You can get a huge advantage by knowing what you want to do in college. Once you know that, you need to find the selectivity of your major at colleges. For example, if you want to pursue English or Psychology, virtually every college offers these classes. However, if you want to study Japanese or Moroccan art, your choices are limited and you have to find the schools that offer such courses. Also, some schools have a high acceptance rates, but much lower for a specific program. For example, Carnegie Mellon has a general acceptance rate around 24%, but the rates for computer science and drama are 7% and 3% respectively.
2. Quality of Faculty
Once you know what you want, find out the quality of faculty in your target schools. Are there a lot of Nobel Laureates? Are the professors interested in teaching, or do graduate students do a lot of the teaching? What are the opportunities of learning at the school? The quality of laboratories/libraries? Can you work for a professor during summers? Etc.
Are you adventurous? Most students do not go further than 200 miles from their homes! But you can open the world for you if you venture out. Go out there and explore different places. Do your research on the computer and then check out the place in person.
If you are not adventurous and also do not have money to pay for college, you are better off staying home, to avoid the out-of-state tuition fees. However, if you can get good grades and excellent test scores, you could get financial aid and go and venture out.
4. Financial Aid
If you are looking for financial aid, do your target schools offer strong financial aid? If so, find out the qualification criteria. Perhaps, they want to see a strong interest in your subject area. Prepare accordingly. Do an internship in that area. Improve your test scores and GPA, etc.
If you don't have the money and cannot find the necessary financial support, then go to a local community college and transfer to a four year school. Community colleges are quite affordable and often have better teachers, since the focus is teaching and not doing research.
5. Career Support
Given the rising cost of college education, you need to make sure that your target schools offer strong career support. You should ask the following questions:
6. What Kind of Schools Attract You?
Are you looking for exposure to international students? Are you interested in studying a semester or year abroad? If so, check the quality of study abroad programs. Check how many international students attend the school. Check the relationships of your target schools with schools abroad. Do not hesitate to contact the study abroad office at your target schools for more information.
Or, are you looking for a small college in a strong local community? Do local companies hire a lot of graduates? Do you get good internships at local companies? You need to find this out.
We have created a small check list (see below). Let us know if we missed any important factors.