Choosing A College

The goal of choosing a college is to determine the best fit. Fit is defined as the right balance, for each individual student, of these five factors:

1. Geography & Size

This refers to the geographic area(s) within the country, the setting (rural, urban, and suburban), distance from home, distance from a cultural center, and your residential options (on campus, near campus, at home).  It also refers to the size of the college or university (small, medium, large).  The size of a student population can create vastly different educational and social environments.

2. Jewish Life

Students must research the Jewish cultural, social and intellectual life, religious services offered, Kosher food options, daily minyanim and Jewish learning at each campus.  When planning a college visit, be sure to contact the Hillel or Chabad so you can sample the Jewish life on campus.

3. Academics

The academic factor includes programs of study (majors, minors and degree programs offered), faculty resources, and level of admission selectivity.  Students who are undecided in their academic pursuits should choose a college with a variety of majors which match their academic interests.  Selectivity – level of admission competition – varies greatly at different colleges; admission rates range from open enrollment to an acceptance of less than 10% of the applicant pool.

4. Personal Needs

Most of the time at college is spent outside of the classroom so it is essential to consider the campus atmosphere, activities, student facilities, social opportunities, and especially and unique features that are important to the individual.  This may include the quality of the library, internship opportunities, student employment, specific activities (such as music or dance), athletic facilities, acceptance rates to graduate school and anything else that may feel important to YOU.

5. Tuition & Costs

College tuition costs vary so serious consideration of the family financial situation and the level of eligibility for financial assistance are very important factors to consider.  Financial aid and/or scholarship awards will impact the stated cost of attendance to any college – public or private.  There are required forms that must be submitted to be considered for any financial aid or scholarship funds.

Visiting Campuses

Why visit colleges?

Remember the old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words”?   Well, a campus visit is worth a thousand glossy brochures or websites. A college visit is your chance as a family to get a firsthand look at a college.  You can really get a feel for the school by walking around the campus, eating in the dining hall and visiting a class.  Students can sometimes even arrange to spend the night in a dorm with a current student – often through Hillel or Chabad.  In many cases, a campus visit can help a student determine what s/he doesn’t want in a college.  This will help narrow and define the final list.

A visit is a great time to get all your questions answered.  Most colleges offer an information session where you can ask about class size, student to faculty ratio, financial aid, admissions and academics.  Take the campus tour!  It’s usually led by a current student who can answer questions on social life, religious life, dorm life and, the all-important: how is the food?  Check the college website or call the Admissions Office to find out about the visit schedule and to register.

When should I go?

Keep in mind why you are visiting colleges…to see if the campus feels like a good fit for YOU.  Make sure you visit when school is in session.  Visit during the week when students will be on campus and in class.  For juniors who have researched colleges, January break and Pesach vacation are a great time to make a trip.  You can continue to visit through the summer and even into the fall and winter of the senior year.

Once a student has been accepted, many colleges will invite them to spend a day or two on campus.  If possible, the student (and family) should visit several colleges where he has been accepted to make some in-depth comparisons and an informed final decision.

What should I do when I get there?

Take a look at this list before planning campus trips to make sure that your family allows enough time on each campus for the student to really get a sense of what the school—and the life of the students there—is really like.

  • Take a campus tour
  • If offered, schedule an interview with an admissions officer (in advance!)
  • Get business cards and names of people you meet, for future contact
  • Pick up financial aid forms
  • Participate in an information session at the admissions office
  • Sit in on a class of a subject that interests you
  • Talk to a professor in a subject that interests you
  • Visit the Hillel and/or Chabad house
  • Talk to a coach in your chosen sport
  • Talk to a student or counselor in the career center
  • If possible, spend the night in the dorm
  • Read the student newspaper
  • Try to find other student publications—department newsletters, alternative newspapers, literary reviews
  • Scan bulletin boards to see what day-to-day student life is like
  • Eat in the cafeteria
  • Ask students why they chose the college
  • Wander around the campus by yourself
  • Read for a little while in the library and see what it's like
  • Search for your favorite book in the library
  • Ask students what they hate about the college
  • Browse in the college bookstore
  • Ask students what they love about the college
  • Walk or drive around the community surrounding the campus
  • Ask students what they do on weekends
  • Listen to the college's radio station
  • Try to see a dorm that you didn't see on the tour
  • Imagine yourself attending this college for four years
  • Write down some notes/thoughts about the visit while it is happening so you can refer back to the details later in the process.