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I work with college students on a daily basis because I work on a college campus. I have seen and met with various students who don’t have a major, so they are “undecided,” and they go to choose a major and the school they are currently at does not carry exactly what they want to study. I have seen students settle for an individualized study as a major for this exact reason. Now, doing an individualized course of study to complete a major approved by a university is completely fine. But, settling for it is not.

So, here are some hard and fast rules to remember when you are visiting schools and looking at possible future colleges and universities.

1. Make sure they have a “practical” major you would enjoy and make sure they have a “fun” major you would enjoy.

What I mean by practical is a major like Business, Economics, Accounting, Marketing, Biology, Chemistry. The majors people smile at when you tell them what you’re studying instead of giving you a sympathetic look when you tell them you’re studying Art History (which is an amazing major by the way). I went the “follow your heart route” with my major after switching from my practical major of Biology after a year. Thankfully, I knew I wanted to study English, and specifically writing. And now that’s what I have my degree in. But when I chose my college, I didn’t look into the writing program as a potential backup major, I just went for Biology and figured that’s what I’d stick with. Keep a back up major in mind and make sure your college of choice has both.

2. Do the research.

Narrow your list to ten colleges. Put five of them on the “hard to get into/dream college” list and put five on the “intermediate and shoe-in” list. Do research on each college and rate them on a scale of one to ten in three categories: acceptance rate, retention rate, and cost of tuition.

Unless you are a trust fund baby (which if you are–you’re so lucky), you will most likely have to take out loans to pay for your tuition at some point. So, making sure you know how much you are agreeing to pay for four years of information and coursework is one of the most important things.

Knowing the acceptance rate of a college is important because it goes hand-in-hand with that college’s retention rate. The retention rate is slightly different than the graduation rate. But graduation rates are easier to find so that number will do. The acceptance rate will tell you how likely it is you’re actually accepted to the college or university. Use this variable to gauge which schools should go on which list.

The retention or graduation rate will tell you how good that school is at keeping its students at that school and making sure they graduate. The higher the acceptance rate, usually the higher the graduation/retention rate which is what you want as a student. This means that the school must have the resources to help students succeed, but also that they make sure the students accepted into the college or university are qualified to be there. Just because a school has a lower graduation rate doesn’t mean you cannot succeed there. There are various schools across the United States with low retention rates but with accredited programs that lead to graduating successful students. And my university is one of them. It’s just something to keep in mind.

3. Look at where you’re going to live.

You will at least have to live on campus for one year at most institutions. This is what most universities require of freshmen. Some universities (mostly in large cities) do not require this. But it is something you should be aware of.

If you do have to live in a dorm, it is not a bad thing. Living in a dorm made up some of the best years of my life and it’s how you meet other people. I lived on campus for two years in a dorm and then I moved across the street from campus and lived in a little apartment with a roommate which was great too.

The cost of living on campus versus living off campus is something that needs to be looked at as well.

4. Parking and having a car.

This is a hot button issue on many college campuses. At my university, we were advised not to bring a car as a freshman. One, because of limited parking and two, because they wanted us to stay on campus during the weekends and make friends. I did bring my car my freshman year and paid the seventy-five dollars for the parking pass which is cheap compared to some other schools. I did not go home on the weekends though. I just used my car for weekend excursions off campus with my friends and to get groceries every once in a while. It was also convenient to be able to drive myself home for breaks. Knowing the cost and availability of parking must be a factor.

5. Do I have to join clubs?

The short answer is no. I actually didn’t and I survived and graduated with friends. However, you do make more friends joining clubs and doing on-campus activities and I highly recommend it. Many of my friends were in sororities and other clubs and I was invited to go to some of their events. For the most part, I worked while at school and I liked my alone time after classes and working. I have never been someone who has required more than a few close friends so I was very happy with my situation. But, socializing in college is always a good idea.

6. Do I follow my significant other to college?

A lot of people say just a right out “no” to this question. But I think it’s a tricky one to answer. I don’t know your relationship or your plans or what college you’re going to so I can’t directly answer it. What I do know is you must be completely in love to even consider it. I have seen this crash and burn and I have seen this work. If you have talked about being a long-term couple, then sure try it. Just make sure you’re both making friends outside of each other’s circles and doing things without each other too. Because if it does end you’re both left with pretty much nothing as a support base and are left alone on a campus.

7. Learn how to read your school’s directory.

Edinboro’s directory is on the landing page of their website. So, it’s pretty easy to find and to use. Go to your college or university’s web page and type in “directory” in the search bar, or search around for it on the page. You need to become familiar with this because it is how you will find every office and professor’s on campus email. You need to become familiar with emailing professors, secretaries, and department heads.

You also need to check your student email at least once a day. The basis of campus communication takes place via student email.

Also, do not send any email ever to a professor or administrator without putting their name first with a comma after their name, and then put your name after your message. Do this always. It doesn’t matter if your professor doesn’t do it back. You always do it. Even if you’re saying “thank you” and the email is two or three words long. It makes you look professional.


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