What are the most important factors when choosing a college?

The teenage years are full of tough decisions. One of the most difficult and stressful decisions a teenager faces comes during his junior or senior year of high school when he must make a decision on where to pursue an undergraduate degree in a particular field of study. With factors like an uncertain economy, constantly transforming technologies, and a job market which fluctuates over time, the pressure to choose the right school where a student will be trained for a career and call home for at least four years can seem daunting.

With as many high-quality options across the country as there are, students considering colleges and universities do well to consider qualities that are most important to them. A college should offer a high-quality education which will train an undergraduate student in the career field of her choosing while at the same time offering cultural opportunities for growth and development. Some students are looking for a major change in scenery, climate, and location. These students typically will look at schools in different states or across the country all together. Some undergraduates are looking to either stay living at home or be close enough to family and friends to be able to visit on weekends and holidays throughout the semester.

You may be looking for a small private college experience with smaller class sizes and an intimate learning experience or you may enjoy the excitement that a Division I major university offers. No matter what you are looking for in an undergraduate program, there are three areas to consider when choosing a school which is right for you. While much can be gained by researching a university's attributes by looking at its website, reading about its history, and interviewing current students and past alumni, there is no substitute for taking a tour of the school you may be interested in attending. Here are three environments you will want to look for while looking into schools whether online or in person.

Social Environment

A school's social environment can be felt as much at a football game on Saturday as it can while walking through the student center on a Tuesday afternoon. Besides curriculum and access to instructors, there is a measurable quality to a school's social offerings, both on campus and off. How many clubs and organizations does the school currently maintain? At what level within the NAIA or NCAA does the school compete athletically? Does the surrounding city seem to support the school by featuring billboards on the highway or painted signs expressing school spirit in local businesses? These are just a few things to find out while researching a school's social environment. Not all students are looking for big and loud however. Some undergraduates may prioritize a number of local coffeeshops, bookstores, or art galleries on campus or near the school. These places may offer more social opportunities and chances to meet like-minded people.

Academic Environment

Without question, many students (and parents) are looking for a college with a strong reputation of granting high-quality degrees backed by a respected staff of educators. A school's academic credibility goes a long way in helping a program stand out from the pack. While a student is benefitted by social opportunities, it will be a school's academic integrity which can mean the difference in her landing a job in the years to come.

Physical Environment

Why does a school's campus play such a large part in why an undergraduate student may choose to attend there? Simple. A school's buildings and amenities will be seen and utilized for several years by a student. An undergrad is not merely choosing a location for education, they are choosing a home. A well-manicured lawn, a beautiful business school building, and easy-access parking garages all have their parts to play in providing students with the optimal college experience.

With so many options across the country, and with so many similar programs currently delivered, choosing a college or university that is right for you can be a tough decision. While these are just three areas to consider while weighing the options, it is good to remember that there is much to be gained from a school besides a mere degree. Research diligently, ask questions, and visit as many campuses as possible while considering your options.