Applying to college can be a stressful and overwhelming experience, and it’s hard to tell if you’re doing it right. Parents, teachers and guidance counselors tend to emphasize one aspect above all, whether that be academics, sports or something else. While attending a college that matches and challenges those interests is important, there’s a number of other factors to account for. Here’s six things to know before applying to college. 

Majors Aren’t Definite

Numerous studies have found that many college students change majors, sometimes more than once. Entering college without one declared isn’t the end of the world and allows you to explore several potential interests. Entertaining various majors during my second year helped me realize that pursuing an English degree was a better option than my prior concentration. Even if this isn’t the case for you, trying out different subjects may lead you to discover a subject that fascinates you so much it becomes a second major, minor or fun subset of classes to take to alleviate your stress. 

Enrollment Size Affects Everything 

Schools boast about their 10:1 student-to-faculty ratios but with enrollment sizes of over 10,000 undergraduate students that’s not likely to happen, at least in your first few years. Majors can also have an effect; my math and English classes have always been under 60 students whereas science courses (especially introductory ones) surpass 100. Small classrooms offer personalized attention from professors and encourage communication between peers. However, they usually require frequent participation which can be stressful. Large classrooms may bring more ease as well as a wider pool of people to connect with. Think about which suits your learning needs and comfort level the most. 

Requirements Are a Pain

Colleges can be misleading with their number of Gen Ed or Core classes, with some schools requiring over 10. This can get in the way of figuring out your major, make changing majors even harder and generally complicate your schedule. Be sure to review every school’s website to determine the exact number of mandatory courses, because chances are its administrators won’t be inclined to tell you during tours. If you’ve taken AP exams, check to ensure you’re eligible for credit because some universities don’t accept all tests, certain scores or they can’t be used to fulfill a Gen Ed course (this means you’ll still get credit towards your degree, but it won’t exempt you from taking a required class centered around the same or a similar subject). 

Since it’s virtually impossible to know which AP exams will grant you credit later on, some students opt to take as many tests as possible to heighten their chances. This, however, can quickly lead to burnout. Looking back, I wish I’d only taken AP classes on subjects I knew I wouldn’t want to complete at a college level rather than spread myself thin by attempting several. 

Tip: Head over to your local library for free exam preparation books!

Acceptance Rates Aren’t Always Truthful

With acceptance rates dropping faster than ever, it’s important to remember these percentages can obscure the truth. A college’s applicant pool may increase because of various factors, like the removal of an application fee, which results in the acceptance rate decreasing even when the number of accepted students is similar to prior years. Think about what a school’s acceptance rate really means to you; I’ve noticed that when prestige and rank are prioritized, people become blind to other factors that are just as important and will lead to a more balanced college life. This percentage should never be the sole factor in considering a university. 

Weather Is More Important Than You Think

Living in New Jersey means you’ve experienced a wide range of temperatures, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a specific one you prefer. Whether it’s the cold of December nights, the warmth of September afternoons or somewhere in between, consider if you want distinct seasons or the same weather year around, as well as if you can handle certain temperatures. Being in college requires a lot more time outside than you might expect, and these temperatures affect the activities you can participate in and your overall mood. I didn’t realize how much I love cold weather until moving to New York, and this has made living there a more pleasant experience. Look through your closet to see if you already have appropriate clothing for a school’s weather or if you’ll need to expand your wardrobe, because that additional sum can be a pretty penny. 

The City vs Suburb Debate

Living in a city for college has been a rewarding and memorable experience, but it’s not quite what I originally imagined. Walks to class are surrounded by restaurants, the smells of New York and people of all ages dressed for every occasion rather than school buildings and greenery. It’s hard to tell if the other 20-year-olds passing by are fellow college students, but this makes recognizing a friend on the street an unexpected joy. There’s always something to do and a new cuisine to try, though I also have the option of cooking in my dorm. I’ve learned to not just be independent but how to enjoy time by myself. 

Suburban schools offer a different but equally fun experience! With fraternities and sororities, sports games and explosive school spirit, you’ll feel a strong sense of community. Having a campus will only bolster this and facilitate meeting new people and making friends. Some students have found these schools, particularly smaller ones, to be dull at times, so make sure to look into their surrounding areas and what you can do there when you need an escape. 

When searching for more perspective on how a particular school is, YouTube may paint a glamorized and misleading picture. Check Reddit and Niche to get the inside scoop. But don’t spend too much time on these forums, they can turn negative quickly. Finding the right school is never easy, but hopefully with these tips you’ll be more prepared when deciding which school is best for you.

See What Our Readers Are Saying