How to Choose the Best College for You

Academics, athletics, location, cost, size, reputation, legacy. This is just a small sample of the factors that go through a senior’s mind when he or she is picking a college. However, when it comes time for seniors to go through the decision process, academics, cost, and location tend to stand out above any other factors.

There are many different colleges in the US. How does one decide from the 5,300 colleges and universities in the country? What factors do seniors tend to use when comparing schools of interest?

Mr. Keely has been a counselor for the past seven years and has helped “close to 1,000” students fill out their applications and meet college requirements. Although Mr. Keely has found that most factors that go into choosing a college are important, he believes the “biggest thing is academics.”

Many students tell their counselors that they want to go to a certain school when it doesn’t even have the major they are looking at.
If you know what you want to major in, that doesn’t mean that you have to go to the most challenging school for that topic. Choose an academic level that will challenge you, encourage growth, and won’t be too overwhelming.

Mr. Keely often asks his students if they “want to go to a highly selective school and have [their] noses in the books every day.” Now for some people, that is the right option, but don’t feel pressured to do that if it isn’t for you.

A close second to academics, cost is another major factor for students in choosing a college.

Glenbard West senior Jack Wright’s main college prospect at the moment is DePaul University. Jack Wright says he is paying for college on his own; however, his mom works at DePaul so he would be able to get a discounted tuition price.

College is not cheap. In fact, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year was $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Cost is a huge factor for choosing a college no matter who is paying.

Another factor that is important to consider is that some of the states around Illinois have reciprocity, where you can get a lowered tuition even if you aren’t from that state.

Illinois and nine other states in the Midwest, such as Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Indiana, have opened their doors to each others’ citizens at more affordable rates.  Unfortunately, not all schools offer reciprocity within these states.

To further find out if your school offers reciprocity, go to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrations or NASFAA website, find the Midwestern region, and continue to the Midwest Student Exchange Program website.

Mr. Keely has noted that more seniors are taking gap years to be able to make more money to afford attending a four year college.
Many Glenbard West graduates go to College of DuPage to get a good, but also less expensive, education. Glenbard West senior Johnny Tran is choosing that option so that he can get a good education while also saving up to go to a four year college.

Location is another huge factor after academics and cost. You have the chance to determine where you are going to live for the next four years of your life, which is why some students are deciding to go out of state.

“Last year, it was almost 60% of our seniors that went out of state,” says Mr. Keely. This is the highest percentage of seniors who have gone out of state in recent Glenbard West history.

When it comes to school size, it is all about preference. There are plenty of benefits and detriments to both large and small schools. For example, large schools provide a lot of classes held in lecture halls with a hundred plus students, while small schools provide a small student-to-faculty ratio, allowing you to have more one-on-one help with your teachers. A benefit to larger schools is their tendency to offer more specialized majors than smaller schools.

The best advice college students can give is that you should visit the school. When going on a college visit, students receive a very good view of what their day to day life would be like if they were to go there. Be sure to research the school, and have questions prepared for administrators or current students.

Visiting students can also see if the size of the school fits what they thought they wanted. Many students think they know what they want but end up changing their mind after a visit.

Choosing a college is supposed to be a fun experience. It’s not meant to be 100% stressful. To make the decision-making process less stressful, have a good idea of what you are looking for, do your research, and get out there and explore.