TOUGH TALK: How You Should Really Choose a College

By Julia Shands on Monday, October 25, 2021

Choosing a college is hard. You might have family, friends and peers who are all pulling you in different directions and you don't know where to turn. These high school guidance counselors are here to help and offer their best advice for how you should REALLY choose a college.

STEP ONE: Focus on your future

When entering into the decision-making process, it’s important that you focus on what you want for your future. “If students are looking at medical school or law school, they should be looking at how many students from those universities are able to be accepted and how they are scoring on MCATs and LSATs,” says Tawnya Shelton, guidance counselor at Alma High School. “They should be looking at program offerings, internship opportunities, scholarship possibilities and the fit of the school into their larger career goals.”

STEP TWO: Face your finances

It’s vital to know the costs of your future school for many reasons. Will you need to start applying for scholarships? Will student loans be part of the equation? Either way, you need to be financially prepared. “I encourage all students to consider the schools where they will receive the most scholarship money,” says Kimberly Brasfield, career coach at Little Rock Central High School. “I always tell my students to weigh their options and explain that student loans will pay for your education. However, six months after you graduate, the federal government expects you to start making payments on your loans.”

STEP THREE: Reach the requirements

Have you met the admission requirements for the school you are hoping to attend? Jan Armstrong, guidance counselor at Conway High School, says this is one of the most important factors that students overlook when considering colleges. “The analogy I like to use is a young kid waiting in a long line for a ride at an amusement park but is too short to ride; there is no need to stand in the line if he is too short for the ride,” says Armstrong. “Students need to check out the admission requirements first.”

STEP FOUR: Succeed with size

Pay attention to the environments where you thrive! Do you learn better in big groups or small groups? When choosing a college, details like this matter. “Some people aren’t going to thrive in larger universities where they are 1 of 200 in a class,” says Shelton. “It’s important for students to really visit and experience the campus to see what it is like for them.”

STEP FIVE: Don’t forget distance

Whether you want to stay close to family or travel the extra mile, you need to know what is best for you. “Some students are just homebodies,” says Shelton. “Living 16 hours from home when they are super close to their families may set them up for failure.”

STEP SIX: Research required

If you don’t do your research, how are you supposed to know what college is right for you? Armstrong says educating yourself is necessary when deciding. “Students need to know the admission requirements, how to apply, what scholarships and/or financial aid is available and whether or not they meet the criteria for those programs and what programs of study the college offers.”

Shelton agrees. “Everyone they ask will have an opinion about what they should do and about the school they select,” she says. “The issue is that only one person has to truly live with their decision – and that is them! They need to be self-aware, honest and do their research!”

STEP SEVEN: Get guidance

Your high school guidance counselor is there to help you. Don’t be afraid to use them as a resource. “Visit with your guidance counselor and college and career coach at least twice per semester,” says Brasfield. “I provide my students with information and opportunities that will help plan their future.”