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Researching Different Types of Higher Education

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Hi there! I'm Elena. If you’re anything like I was, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed by the college application process. I get it: it feels like there is so much to know, and so many things to consider. It’s a lot! That’s why I want to share this guide with you; it has manageable parts so you can take what you need!

 

We'll review researching colleges based on:

Click into any of the topics you want to explore more, to jump to that section. I promise, once you finish this entire college application process, you’ll find everything you’re looking for.  Might as well learn about the type of college you may want while you’re at it! 

Size of college

One really important thing to consider is the size of a college.  Do you want bigger classes with a lot of other students or smaller classes with fewer students? Maybe somewhere in the middle? Read more to find out which one is more your speed.

Smaller Sized Colleges & Universities (under 5000 students)

Average class size Classroom type Student-to-faculty ratio Clubs & organizations
10-30 students Discussion-based* Smaller (opportunity to form solid relationships with professors) Typically a smaller amount of options

*Note from Elena: I didn't know the difference between discussion and lecture-based classes; basically discussion-based classes are driven by participation from both professors and students, whereas lecture-based means the professor is the main speaker, teaching the class about a certain topic.

Sometimes the smaller-sized student body can feel more manageable, in terms of making connections with others. That being said, it’s not for everybody— visiting is a great way to find out!

⭐ Smaller Sized Colleges to Explore: Amherst College, Washington and Lee University, Pomona College, and Swarthmore College


 

Medium Sized Colleges & Universities (5,000-15,000 students)

Average class size Classroom type Student-to-faculty ratio Clubs & organizations
10-30 students Some classes are discussion-based while others are lecture-based

Varies (since class size varies)

More options than a small college

Think of medium-sized colleges as a balance between smaller and larger schools. Often, these colleges also have competitive sports teams, so there is a big sense of school spirit and camaraderie around games. Sometimes these medium-sized colleges are private colleges, which can vary in price and financial aid disbursement.

Medium-Sized Colleges to Explore: Villanova University, Gonzaga University, Duke University, Syracuse University


 

Larger Colleges & Universities (15,000+ students)

Average class size Classroom type Student-to-faculty ratio Clubs & organizations
100-500 students Mainly lecture-based

Larger (fewer opportunities for personal connection)

A large variety

Larger colleges can range from 18,500 to 46,000 students; if this is hard to visualize, take a look at a college’s average classroom size and student-faculty ratio to give you a better idea. Often, these colleges have top-notch sports teams, which can bring lots of school spirit and bonds over games. Nervous to go to a bigger school? Not to worry— look into the social environment on these campuses to get a better idea. Finally, larger colleges are often public or state colleges–which can make them more affordable and can give you access to great alumni associations.

⭐ Larger Colleges to Explore: Clemson University, Virginia Tech, Penn State

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Distance from Home

Note from Elena: Distance was something I totally underestimated when I was looking for a college. Here are three helpful questions that could guide you along:

1. Do you want to be close enough to come home sometimes?

While many students' immediate answer may be “no,” take a minute to think about what that might really mean. Would you like to come home to watch the big game or musical in which your younger sibling is the lead? Or to celebrate a family member’s birthday? Being close enough to come home doesn’t mean that you will come home every weekend, but it gives you the option to easily come home if needed.

2. How close is the nearest train/bus that could bring you home?

Having transport nearby would save a trip driving back and forth. Plus, you’d have lots of time on the train/bus in which you could get your schoolwork completed or just decompress!

3. Do you need to take a plane? 

If so, be sure to factor that price into your cost of attendance— it can add up quickly! 

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Campus Type

Note from Elena: Every campus is different, so take a look at the “Colleges to Check Out” to see if you like their setting! Definitely visit or take a virtual tour if you can.

City Campus

Things to Consider: Could have defined campus or campus that blends into the city, opportunities to explore, higher cost of living.  

Examples of City Campuses: All cities are different; look at Tulane University (New Orleans), Temple University (Philadelphia), George Washington University (Washington DC).

 

Suburban Campus

Things to Consider: More defined campus, usually close access to city/large town via train/bus/car. 

Examples of Suburban Campuses: Villanova University (PA), University of California - Santa Barbara (CA), Stony Brook University (NY)

 

Rural Campus

Things to Consider: Further from city/large town (could be more remote), may have “college town” built around it.  

Examples of Rural Campuses: University of Connecticut (CT), Amherst College (MA), Earlham College (IN)

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Major

Note from Elena: Looking for a major is where I got stumped when I was applying to schools. You can go into college with a major in mind, or you can go in “Undecided.”

  • Not all colleges offer the same majors. Make sure the one you want is there
  • Unsure about what to study? Check out a college with a liberal arts focus, and see the top majors at that school!
  • Look into how competitive certain majors are at a college (business, nursing, architecture, engineering)
    • Keep this in mind when choosing a college in general, or if you plan to switch into one of these eventually if you go into college “undecided.”
  • Check out the average GPA and test scores for students who were accepted to a certain program or major at a college

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Social Life, Interests, and Vibe

Note from Elena: This is the #1 thing I underestimated when looking for schools; I didn’t realize that the fun Friday activities or clubs colleges have are some of the BEST parts of college. Keep these 7 categories in mind in your search!


Politics: Does the political climate matter to you?

Some schools lean toward a certain political party. Ask about the college’s general political climate on campus, and you can even pick up the school newspaper on campus to draw insights from.

Sports: Have you always imagined going to football or basketball games?

Or does that idea make you cringe? Either way, it’s a good idea to know how important sporting events are in the school’s culture, since, at some schools, weekends will be spent at the football tailgates or watching the team’s basketball games.
(PS-- I knew nothing about sports going into my very school-spirited college and I ended up loving the games!)


Interests: Do you have a particular interest, such as hiking, singing, robotics, or improv?

If so, use Scoir’s college search to search by interest. If you find schools that have your personal interests, when you arrive on campus, you can find a place to feel at home.


Study Abroad: Want to spend a semester studying abroad or somewhere else within the US?

Though it may seem early, you’ll want to know in advance for some colleges. If you would, try to find a college that offers several different programs. If you don’t want to study abroad and you end up on a college campus in which the majority of students do in fact study abroad, you may feel a bit lonely. If you are uncertain about whether you’d enjoy a study abroad experience, then find a college that offers it but isn’t the expectation for everyone.


Diversity: Diversity on campuses can vary immensely from school to school. Take a look at the college’s gender and ethnic diversity stats.

Interested in an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)? To learn more about the history of HBCU’s, you can watch “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities,” an excellent documentary by Stanley Nelson.


Religion: Does a college’s religious affiliation influence your decision?

Keep in mind that even if a college or university is not religiously affiliated, it may still have religion-oriented clubs/organizations. In addition, find out if services are held on or near campus if you want to continue with your practice.


Vibe: Do you get a good feeling from the college?

Honestly, sometimes it comes down to the college’s energy. If you can, definitely visit your final list of colleges in person to get a feel for what it’s like. Plus, visiting will show the college you have demonstrated interest in them. If you know someone who goes to the college, reach out and see if they would be willing to take you around the campus— more often than not, people will be excited to show off their school!

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Overall, YOU know what is the best fit for you. Let this guide settle in and maybe do a search in Scoir just for fun, to explore! Once signed up, you can download our app for iOS and take your college search anywhere with you. If you do already use Scoir, you can check out our article on managing your college list in Scoir. I’ll be back with more tips soon :)

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