Blog by Megan Dausch, College Success Mentor
Like so many students, I can still feel the ball of fear that crept into my stomach when I had to make the final decision about which college to attend. How would I choose the college which was right for me? What if I discovered, too late, that I had made the wrong choice? Many of these fears are the same ones all first-time college students face, however they were perhaps even more compounded for me because I am also blind.
What really helped me determine a good fit was breaking my college search down into a process. These are the steps that helped me narrow down my choices and ultimately led me to choosing a college that matched my needs and desires. While everyone’s process for choosing a college is different, I hope that some of these tips will help you during this exciting, but often daunting, journey
Explore, explore, explore
One of the most helpful meetings I had before deciding on a college was a meeting with my high school guidance counselor. This meeting took place during my junior year of high school. There are countless colleges out there, and I really had no idea which one would be a good fit for me.
We sat down and explored several questions: Did I want a large school or a small school? Did I want to move across the country or did I prefer to stay closer to home? What was I thinking of studying?
I knew I wanted a small school. I didn’t want to get lost in a sea of students. While a larger school might offer more activities and resources, I wanted classes that were small, and in which I could directly interact with my professors. I knew I wanted to study in the humanities, and at the time I wanted to major in romance languages. The school I ultimately chose had a major in romance languages, something I couldn’t find at a lot of other colleges. While I knew I didn’t want to be too far from my family, I wanted to be far enough away so that I could feel separate and independent.
Answering some or all of these questions will give you a good starting point. For instance, you may not know exactly what you plan on studying, but you probably have an idea of whether you're a humanities person or a science person.
Even after you have answered these basic questions, you'll probably be given a long list of choices. Explore the websites of the colleges you are interested in to learn more about what they have to offer.
Look at the financials
While it’s not a fun topic to discuss, college often requires some kind of financial commitment. How will you pay for college? Will you receive support from your state Vocational Rehabilitation Agency? Will you get support from your family? Will you need to take out student loans to cover the cost? If so, think about the future, and how much debt you are willing to take on.
One of the many factors that helped me choose my school was that I received a generous scholarship. When I was researching colleges, I noted that the school I ended up choosing offered many scholarships for academic achievement. I felt that this was something to value when making my decision about where to go, especially since many of the other schools I was accepted to did not offer scholarships strictly based upon academic achievement in high school.
Visit in person
If you're able to, visiting as many schools in person as possible will allow you to interact with students, walk the campus, meet with the Disability Service Office (DSO), and generally gain an idea of what the campus culture feels like.
This can be especially important for blind and visually impaired students; sighted students have access to pictures of the campus, but blind and visually impaired students need to walk the campus to gain a good idea of its layout.
Make sure you are comfortable with the location of the DSO. I liked that my college’s DSO was in the library—a short walk from the freshman dorm and the main classroom building.
For me, visiting my top choices was probably the most important step in this process, as it helped me to narrow my options. I immediately felt comfortable on the very small campus of the college I ultimately chose. The student body overall appeared very friendly, and I found the administration and college president accessible on my first visit. For more tips on making the most of your campus visit, you can read my other article
on this topic on the Learning Ally
Location, location, location
While most of what you need will be on campus, research what else is around the school. Does the school offer bus trips into the town or a nearby city? One aspect that attracted me to my college was its proximity to New York City. The college offered frequent bus trips to the local town and into New York City. Students were able to purchase steeply discounted tickets to Broadway shows, and the school provided a bus directly to the show and back to the campus. This was a great way for me to meet other students while taking advantage of my access to the arts.
Find out about on campus clubs and activities
While finding out about academics was my top priority, I wanted a school with a vibrant extracurricular life, too. When exploring my college’s website and visiting the campus, I noticed that there was a plethora of clubs and activities. Giving back to my community has always been important to me; throughout my high school career I volunteered with soup kitchens and organizations that would let me give back. I was delighted to find out that community service played a vital role in my campus community. I was able to teach English to English-language learners as well as volunteer my time with teenagers in need.
Make a list of pros and cons
If you’re stuck deciding between several colleges, try writing down lists of traits you like about the colleges as well as traits that you wish were different. Sometimes, just getting your thoughts down in writing can give you a clearer picture of the situation. Writing down my thoughts about the various colleges I visited and reading them back later helped me make my final decision about where I wanted to go.
Ultimately, your college experience will be determined by what you put into it. Regardless of whether you go to a large university or a small college, you
will define what you take away from your classes and friendships. If you end up not liking the school you ultimately choose, remember you can always look into transferring. College ultimately is not about which of your top ten you attend, but about what you do while at the school and what you take away once you leave.
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