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5 things to consider when making a college list

College application season is often an incredibly stressful time – how are you supposed to choose between thousands of colleges and universities scattered across the country? Or even the world?

There are a lot of factors to consider when creating your college list such as the location, school size and culture, program offerings, expected costs, and acceptance rate. Keep reading to learn more about each factor and how they influenced my decision to end up here at the University of Rochester.

1. Location, location, location

Just as it’s true in real estate, location is extremely important when picking potential schools. Do your parents require you to stay within a certain radius? Would you like to stay close to home for easier trips back and forth? Or are you even interested in commuting? Or are you the opposite and are interested in moving further away?

Climate can be a big influence on peoples’ college choices. I knew I didn’t want to go anywhere warmer than Rochester, where I grew up, nor too far away, so my final list only included schools in the Northeast. I’ve met students here from extremely warm and arid places, so coming to Rochester was a chance for them to experience all four seasons.

It’s also important to consider whether you want to be in a city, suburb, or rural setting. Will you have a car? And what are public transportation options like on or near campus? The University of Rochester is located within the city of Rochester, but the River Campus where most undergraduate students will live is relatively separated from city life due to the Genesee River on one side and the cemetery and Medical Center on the other. There are shuttles that take students downtown and into two suburbs but they have limited schedules.

2. Total cost

Schools can vary incredibly in cost, with private universities typically costing more than public ones, and community colleges providing the most cost-effective options. Many schools offer need-based aid and merit scholarships to help lower the cost for students and their families. Read more about the University of Rochester’s aid programs.

Connected back to location, it’s also important to think about the cost of living in the school’s area, as it’s likely you will end up living off-campus or at the very least purchasing groceries or other items in town. Somewhere like New York City or Los Angeles will have a much higher cost of living than a town in Ohio. If you’re planning on traveling to and from home multiple times a year, you should also consider those potential costs. Flying across the country to get home potentially multiple times a year will add up.

3. Program offerings

If you have a really clear vision of what you want to study in college or are maybe already thinking about post-graduate studies, make sure the major(s) you’re interested in are offered at the school. There may even be programs such as accelerated masters degrees or early medical school acceptance. The University of Rochester has a few of these programs, these programs are called Combined Degree Programs at Rochester. Other special programs the University offers include Take 5 and e5, which allow students a tuition-free fifth year. You cannot apply to these programs until you’ve started attending the University.

But what if you change your mind? Or don’t know what you want to do? I’d recommend looking at schools that offer at least a few majors that interest you, along with ones that have more flexible curriculums. One of students’ very popular reasons for choosing the University of Rochester (myself included) is the flexible curriculum. There are no required courses of every student besides an introductory writing course, typically taken during your first year. This allows students to jump right into their major classes, and if they aren’t enjoying it, makes it easier to switch to a different one. If you are set in what you’re doing, this freedom allows you to double, or even triple major. With careful planning and use of the overlap policy, I was able to double major and double minor.

4. School size & culture

School size and culture is another important factor For example, if you are looking for a campus with a lot of school spirit and who has a strong sports culture, you’d probably enjoy a Big 10 or SEC school with lots of other undergrad students. This goes similarly for Greek Life. At some schools it dominates the social scene, while at others, it has a much smaller presence. The University of Rochester is certainly not known for a vibrant sports scene or massive Greek Life infrastructure.

School size on its own is also important. Do you want to be on a campus that has the population of a full town? Or maybe more similar to your high school? Or something in-between? The University of Rochester has around 6,000 undergraduate students, making it a mid-size school. I often run into people I know when walking to class or spending time in a dining hall. It’s not an incredibly large campus either, making spotting people you know even more common. 

5. Acceptance rate

When making a full college list you should have schools with a range of acceptance rates. Depending on your grades, test scores (if that’s something required), and extracurriculars, you can get a sense of what will be a reach school (one that’s going to be pretty hard to get into), a match school (one that will be somewhat likely to get into), and a safety school (one that will be easy to get into). It’s important to have a mix of these on your college list, as you never really know what’s going to happen during application season. 

Final thoughts

Once you’ve considered all these factors and start building a broad list, you can use a pros/cons list to help narrow down your options. Maybe one school has the small size and perfect location you’re looking for, but only one major you’re interested in. It’s up to you to decide what’s more important.

Good luck on forming your lists and submitting your applications!

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