What I wish I knew when choosing colleges

Jack Kubineck ’23, Cornell University

When I was in high school, I spent countless hours poring over college websites and online forums trying to figure out which colleges would suit me best. After less than a week of college, I realized that most of the research I had done wasn’t helpful, and there was a lot that I didn’t know while going through the college process. Here are a few of the things I wish I had known before applying to college.

Most colleges offer the same opportunities

While being bombarded by college emails during my junior year of high school, I began to notice that every college said the same things about themselves. “Our professors love engaging with students! There are like 57 sports teams here! We have a squirrel watching club! Wow! Quirky!” The truth is, most colleges offer many of the same opportunities. The majority of colleges have the same types of clubs, offer the same types of classes, and create similar career options. So, in a lot of ways, you can’t really go wrong when choosing a college, because all colleges will offer similar opportunities.

The key to finding the right college for you, though, is learning to look past the fluff that colleges put in their admissions brochures and finding what makes a college unique. Does a college offer a less common major that you’re interested in? Are there study abroad options that interest you? Does the college have a really good basketball team? Find out what matters most to you in your college search.

Your environment matters

Colleges all offer similar opportunities, but they don’t all have similar campus atmospheres. It’s easy to only focus on how prestigious a college is or how good its academics are, but your mental health is more important than either of those things, so you should pick a college where you will enjoy yourself and be able to thrive. Love the outdoors? Then look for schools with nature nearby. Vegetarian? Then look for schools with good vegetarian dining options. Hate the cold? Then try to go somewhere warm for college.

Besides the school’s physical environment, though, colleges also have different social atmospheres. Some schools have big fraternity/sorority party scenes, while other colleges have social scenes consisting more of hanging out in smaller groups or at school-sponsored events. At some colleges, many of the students leave to go home on weekends. And, more broadly, your college experience will play a part in shaping the person you become. The juniors and seniors at different colleges will be you in a few years, so ask yourself if you want to be more like the students at any particular college.

Visiting colleges is a great way to answer many of these questions. If you aren’t able to visit the colleges you’re interested in, CollegeFindMe provides virtual campus tours from students at colleges across the country.

Sometimes you just have a feeling

Looking for colleges is stressful, and it’s okay to not have all the answers to which college suits you best. At the end of the day, I ended up picking the college that felt right to me. Do your research and think hard about what you want to get out of your college experience, but know that at the end of the day, you won’t know everything about your college until you become a student there. Trust your gut, and you can’t go wrong.