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Meet 3-Picking Colleges

Picking a college that’s right for you

We realize that the title of this meet may be a bit intimidating. It may seem like we’re telling you to commit to a particular life path. Just keep in mind that the purpose of picking a wide variety of colleges is so that you have options. Remember we’re not having you apply anywhere; you don’t have to do that until your senior year. We want you to have lots of time to weigh the pros and cons of various colleges. Making a tentative list now means you’ll become a more savvy college shopper, and even if you find that you like none of the colleges on your list, you’ll know what to look for in any college.

What do you want in a college?

For better or worse, the college you pick will be your home for the next 4 years. Many an undergrad has parachuted into a campus only to find that the general political climate is opposite to their views, or that the gender ratio means 3 men to each woman. Many students’ choices pan out quite nicely and they end up loving their new environment, but when making decisions like this it’s probably a good idea to do your research. There are lots of dimensions to consider, so we’ve helpfully put them together for you.


Increasingly, multiculturalism is becoming a real asset in the professional world. With globalization it is disadvantageous not to be comfortable in a multi-ethnic/multi-national setting. Colleges with low levels of diversity are not necessarily bad, but it’s definitely something to look into

Some dimensions to consider

  • Racial and Ethnic makeup
  • Multilingual
  • International students
  • Presence of LGBTQ groups


There are some colleges with close to 100,000 students enrolled and some with considerably less. They offer different experiences and you should take these into account when picking your school.


Smaller colleges may offer a stronger sense of community. Less people on campus means less people get lost in the crowd and more chances of running into the same people more often.
Classes are smaller as well. Nothing kills the teacher/student like a 500 lecture hall. Having the faculty available to you is a wonderful resource that you should always take advantage of.
On the negative side, there will likely be less course offerings. Small colleges are often “known” for something like being a liberal arts college, or having a great technical program meaning that the classes they do offer are great, but there may not be that many of them. This can be a good thing if you are already pretty sure of what you’re interested in, but might not be if you are still up in the air about it.


Larger colleges have some drawbacks, but also tremendous advantages. As stated before, huge class sizes for introductory courses can be a drag, and increasingly you’ll be getting a lot of instruction from teaching assistants, i.e. graduate or undergraduate students. Professors will be somewhat less accessible but always remember that they must hold office hours. Office hours are a specified period of time every week that a professor must sit in their office and hold court with students who wish to speak to them. Professors always say they sit patiently waiting for students to come, but few ever do. Never forget that you have access to your teachers no matter where you go.

Research universities like the University of California tend to be larger and have less student/teacher interaction, but it should be noted that course offerings there are unique. As researchers, the faculty are on the forefront of knowledge creation and have the authority to establish new and exciting classes that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

Since funding is to a large degree determined by enrollment, large universities generally have more money for extracurriculars and officially recognized clubs and organizations. More over, they may have larger, better stocked libraries. As you go through college you’ll come to see what a terrific a college library is. They make writing research papers (and you’ll be doing a lot of them) much more doable, and the content of what you write will be enriched.


In State Vs. Out of State

In State

Going to school in-state will almost always be cheaper. For example, the current yearly tuition for UCSC is around $12,000. For an out-of-state student it is about $34,000. Remember to always check with individual schools about costs. Typically you can just search for “tuition” on their website or go to a section like “paying for college” or “cost of attendance”.

Out of State

You saw the number up above. Tuition is way more. However, going to a different part of the country for four years can be an amazing experience. There are some world class schools out there and if you are so inclined, and financially able then by all means explore the possibility.

You should consider how often you’re comfortable with seeing your family. Going out to college invariably means that you will see less of your family, unless of course you go to school extremely close to home. Moving out of state will of course exacerbate this. It’s important to ask yourself how often you need to see your family, and what level of being away you are comfortable with.

Urban Vs. Suburban Vs. Rural


Going to school in an out of the way area offers a few advantages like a heightened sense of community and security. If you are a nature lover, there are many campuses adjacent to or inside of wonderful nature preserves. Rural settings offer a slow pace you wouldn’t find in a bustling metropolis, but you will encounter relatively low racial and ethnic diversity.
Also, don’t forget to consider how you will get around. Without a car or good bus system, you will find yourself getting stranded on campus often, or bored out of your mind.


Urban centers offer well developed public transit systems, diverse demographics, and entertainment and nightlife you would be hard pressed to find in a non-urban setting.
On the bad side, cities often have higher crime rates, and are more expensive to live in.


Suburbs offer a blend of the good things about both, but also the bad things. You guys have lived in the suburbs so you probably know what we mean. They’re expensive, have a easy pace, fluctuate on crime, can be fun, can be boring, can be easy to get around, can be difficult.

Academic Programs


This is a tricky thing. You shouldn’t go somewhere just for it’s prestige, but at the same time having the brand recognition can be a bonus when job hunting. Prestige can improve the content of a school to a certain degree, but take the name with a grain of salt. At community college, one of my instructors said that he was teaching us exactly what he taught at Harvard. I asked if there was any difference and he said about twenty grand. So keep that in mind when your considering your prospects.

Look at how a school is ranked at the stat, national, and possibly global level to get a sense for how prestigious a school is.

Majors and Minors offered

As stated before, some schools are “known” for certain things. Aside from general prestige, look at the individual programs, like criminal justice, medical, computer science, humanities and biological and physical sciences.

Narrowing Your List

By this time you should have a Collegeboard.org account with a very basic list. If not, just make one. It’s really easy. Last week we had you make a list based solely on your GPA and scores. This time make a new search and add in what you want out of a college using what we just went over. We suggest doing multiple searches. Search like crazy, it’s free!


University of California (UC) California State University (CSU) Community/Junior Colleges (CC/JC)
Degrees Offered Bachelor (BA/BS)
Masters (MA)
Ph.D (Doctorate)
Bachelor (BA/BS)
Masters (MA)
Associates (AA/AS)
Vocational Degrees
or Trade Certificates
Focus Research oriented with teaching as a secondary goal Teaching oriented
with some research as a secondary goal
Teaching is the sole purpose
Tuition and
estimated living
costs including
books and miscellaneous
On Campus-$13,000
Off Campus-$10,000
On Campus-$34,000
Off Campus-$30,000
On Campus-$9,500
Off Campus-$10,000
On Campus-$25,000
Off Campus-$23,000
$46/unit+other fees
Admission Requirements Top 12.4% of your class is
guarenteed a spot at a UC campus
Top 33.3% of your class is
guarenteed a spot at a CSU campus
Open to all