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Campus Overload
Posted at 04:10 PM ET, 03/28/2012

What types of colleges fit your personality and goals?

At the beginning of the college admissions process, there is this important — and complicated — question to answer: What type of college do you want to attend?

In other words: Are you a big state school sort of student in search of research opportunities and major sporting events? Or are you a liberal arts school type who feels most comfortable in a small class? Urban or rural? Close to home or far away? A bargain school or expensive?

University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va. (Norm Shafer)
Earlier this week, I shared some tips for high school students and their parents who are visiting colleges this spring. That prompted Roy Gamse of Arlington to e-mail me a worksheet that he and his wife, Joyce, created when their two children were searching for schools about a decade ago.

“It is sometimes difficult to get the students to identify what their criteria are,” Gamse wrote. “In that situation, we developed a questionnaire that was helpful in getting our children to think about and identify what was important to them.”

Here’s that questionnaire, which I revised a little. I also added some questions of my own:

ACADEMICS: What are a handful of disciplines that you might pick as a major?

Does it matter how you fit academically in the student body? If you assume that SAT scores are an indication of class standing, would you be okay being in the: Top 25 percent / Middle 50 percent / Bottom 25 percent / It doesn’t matter

Do you need flexibility in your class schedule? Not really / Summer courses / Online classes / Evening classes / Hybrid classes that meet in-person and online / Other

Are any of these programs of interest or importance to you? Study abroad / Internship programs / Career services / Undergraduate research / Other

DEMOGRAPHICS: What size school would you consider or prefer?

Small with less than 5,000 undergraduates (Examples: Carleton College in Minnesota, Bowie State University or McDaniel College in Maryland)

Medium with 5,000-10,000 undergraduates (Examples: Princeton University in New Jersey, Duke University in North Carolina or American University)

Large with 10,000 to 20,000 undergraduates (Examples: George Mason University or University of Virginia)

Very large with more than 20,000 undergraduates (Examples: Virginia Tech, University of Maryland or University of Michigan)

What type of school would you consider or prefer? Public / Private / Liberal arts / Religious / Historically black / All-women / Community college

Are there any student body demographics that are of interest or importance to you? Economic diversity / Racial diversity / Political diversity / Geographic diversity / International diversity / Religious diversity / Ratio of men to women / Other

GEOGRAPHY:  What section of the country would you like your college to be in? Northeast / Mid-Atlantic / New England / Midwest / Southeast / Southwest / West Coast / It doesn't matter

Does a region’s weather factor into your decision?

How far away from home would you like it to be? At least ____ hours away by car, train or bus, but no more than ____ hours away. Or at least ____ hours away by plane, but no more than ____ hours away.

How often do you want to travel home? How often can you afford to do so? At least once a month / A few times per semester / For every holiday and long break / For most holidays and long breaks / Only once a school year / Not at all / It doesn’t matter

What kind of location would you prefer or would you like to consider?

* Urban (Examples: University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, New York University in New York City or Howard University in D.C.)

* Suburban (Examples: Stanford University in Palo Alto or Marymount University in Arlington or University of Maryland in College Park)

* Small town and/or rural (Examples: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Penn State University in State College or St. Mary’s College of Maryland)

* It doesn’t matter

Are there any surrounding attractions that would make a college more appealing to you? Beaches / Mountains / Shopping / Theater / International population / Public transportation / Music clubs / Political opportunities / Relatives / Industry centers (like New York for finance or L.A. for entertainment) / Other


CAMPUS LIFE: Where do you plan to live? Dorm on campus / Apartment near campus / Greek house / Commute from home / Other

What sort of academic, medical, emotional or psychological support will you need at college? Do you have any of the following: Disability / Medical condition / Learning disorder / Mental health issue / Other

What clubs or activities do you plan on doing in college? Would you want to play a sport?

Does it matter if you have friends going to t he same college? Living in the same city? Living close by?

FINANCIAL AID: How much money have you and your parents saved for college? How much can you afford to spend each year?

Each college admissions Web site should now feature a net price calculator that estimates your annual bill. Calculate how much it might cost for you to attend a handful of schools that range in price (such as an in-state public school, a private liberal arts school and an out-of-state public school). With those figures in hand, sit down with your parents for a conversation about what you can afford. Some topics to discuss:

- How much of the total cost of college will your parents or other relatives pay, and how much will you be responsible for paying?

- Will you work while in college? Are there opportunities for a work-study position?

- How will you pay for room and board, travel and other expenses?

- After graduation, how much are you willing to pay each month toward student loan debt? Are you pursuing a career that typically pays enough to handle that amount of debt?

CONCLUSION: What are the most important factors of all those mentioned above? What other factors are important to you in choosing a college? 

For more higher education news, follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Here are some other articles that might be of interest:

U of Rochester admissions creates hip-hop music video

William & Mary ditches its traditional viewbook

Getting rejected from your dream school(s) isn’t a bad thing

Number college rankings proliferate — and some don’t make sense

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