3 things you think matter, but don't

college buildingWhen choosing a school, make sure these three things don’t get more emphasis than they deserve:

Private vs. public: Many students have their heart set on going to either a private or public school even before they start their college search. You may not know that private and public colleges aren’t like private and public high schools. So if you’re basing this decision on your high school experience, you could be missing out on some great schools.


>>Private vs. state university: What's the difference?

Many private colleges associated with a religion aren’t religious at all. At many of these schools there is no mandatory church attendance and no pressure to convert. You may be required to take one or two religion courses, but you'll find plenty of schools where they’re not going to shove their beliefs down your throat. If you’re still worried about attending a religiously affiliated school, there are plenty of private colleges that aren’t associated with any religion.


If cost is what’s keeping you from applying to a private school, remember that financial aid and scholarships can significantly bring down the price. Also, private schools cost more but they generally have more money to give to students in the forms of scholarships and grants.


>>8 ways to pay for college

If you’ve ruled out public schools because they’re too big or they have too many classes taught by TAs, don’t cross all of them off your list. Not all public colleges and universities fit this image. There are state schools with small class sizes and a lot of academic support.


>>9 reasons for choosing a four-year college

Hobby/club availability: When you take college tours or read their brochures you may notice that they love to tell you how many clubs they have. So what if they have over 1,000 clubs? You realistically can’t join more than a handful. Take a step back and think about what’s more important to you. What is the reason you’re going to college?

You should definitely get involved in activities other than academics, but they shouldn’t be a deciding factor. If the school you choose happens to have a club just for you, that’s just icing on the cake. Remember that you can always start a club if your college doesn’t have one you’d like to join. You can’t start a new major if the school doesn’t have the right classes or resources.

The only exception is if you have a truly unique passion. If you’re interested in something like glass blowing, deaf culture, or West African dancing, you probably won’t find those types of clubs available at many schools. You still have to make sure the college is a good fit for you otherwise. All other things being equal, the availability of a unique club that fits your interests could sway your decision later on.

Athletics: If you overestimate your athletic abilities, you may be very disappointed when you don’t make the cut for a sports team. Unless you were offered a spot in writing by the school, there’s no guarantee you’ll get past try-outs.

Take this example of a student who chose a school solely for their gymnastics team: she didn’t particularly like the school otherwise, but she thought that being a member of a good team would make up for it. Well, she didn’t make the cut for the team her first year. Or the year after. She was miserable because the school wasn’t a good fit for her and on top of that, she wasn’t even doing what she loved. She ended up transferring to a school that she knew she would enjoy. She even made it onto their gymnastics team.

Even if you are lucky enough to be offered a spot on the team, you still have to make sure the school is a good fit otherwise. Hey, if you are good enough to get an offer from one school, you’d probably be able to negotiate an offer elsewhere too.

Be realistic about your expectation of joining athletic teams. You may be the star player at home, but college is a whole different story. College sports and academics are more demanding than high school. Even if you make the team, you may decide it’s too demanding to continue. Intramural teams and club sports are always good alternatives. The most important question is, will you still enjoy attending the school if you don’t make the cut for the team? If the answer is no, you can save yourself a lot of frustration by choosing a different school.

The bottom line is your college decision is made up of multiple factors. Don’t let the little things dominate your decision.


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>>4 potential deal breakers