Whenever I told people I would be going to college in New York this year, I was usually met with equal parts sympathy and curiosity—sympathy for having to deal with colder weather, and curiosity for why I chose to deal with it. 

A year ago, I would’ve had the same reaction; as someone whose wardrobe consists of a solid 25 percent crop tops, I definitely didn’t picture myself leaving the warm climate in California behind. In fact, when it came time for me to decide what school to attend, there was only one school I was considering outside of California. Nevertheless, the college admissions process led me to none other than the frigid metropolis that is Rochester, New York. It’s hard for me to pinpoint the one thing that ultimately made up my mind, but if I had to narrow down the reasons, I would say four major criteria contributed most to my college decision.

One aspect I examined when comparing my options was the number of students. Particularly for my undergraduate experience, I wanted an environment where I could work closely alongside my teachers and peers. This was significant to me for a few reasons. For one thing, having smaller class sizes would presumably mean the professors could offer more attention to each student. If I ever struggle with any material, being able to seek out help from professors outside of class could make a huge difference in helping me understand what we’re learning. Similarly, being able to work with the same students more consistently would give me a chance to know my peers better and reach out to them with questions about our work, and vice versa. Additionally, I believed I would thrive more socially in an atmosphere where I could create closer bonds with fewer people. In the past, I’ve always gravitated towards smaller friend groups, so I wasn’t expecting that to suddenly change in college. As a result, I felt like a smaller school would best cater to me socially and intellectually.

Another quality I looked at was the academic programs offered at each school. At my particular college, there were a few unique programs that stood out to me. First was the flexible curriculum, which removes general education courses from the degree requirements. Essentially, no one has to take classes outside of their major as long as they take at least three classes—a cluster—in the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. With this system in place, I was more confident that I would take classes I was genuinely passionate about rather than reluctantly meeting my degree requirements. Aside from that, my school offers several programs tailored towards business majors; since business is a field I’m hoping to pursue in the future, this appealed to me a lot. Even if I don’t take advantage of all of the opportunities, it’s reassuring to know there will be plenty of options available in case one path doesn’t work out for me.

A third attribute I looked at was campus life. Based on what I read online, I had the impression that although my college prioritized academics, there was also an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, which was consistent with what I witnessed when I visited campus last January. Even though there weren’t many students around over winter break, I was still welcomed by people I encountered during a quick pass through campus. I didn’t want to go somewhere that was too cutthroat and competitive, so this was a good sign for me. Aside from that, I looked into the student organizations available at the school and found a number of different activities I could see myself participating in. Going somewhere supportive of diversity was a must for me, so seeing that my school actively encouraged representation of people from a variety of different backgrounds was a definite plus. A combination of those components of campus life was another way in which my college aligned with my criteria.

Lastly, location actually did end up playing a role in my college decision. Despite the comfort and familiarity I have with California, a part of me was entranced by the prospect of moving to New York. On one hand there was the undeniable allure of venturing away from home, but on the other hand, there was a more practical, career-driven motivation that enticed me. Due to my interest in marketing and journalism, I thought I might be able to find unique job opportunities relevant to those fields in New York. Along with all of the other positive qualities I saw in my school, turning down the opportunity simply because of the colder weather seemed a little frivolous to me. With that in mind, being in New York was yet another asset that made my school stand out to me.

Overall, my decision came down to finding the best combination of what I wanted for my undergraduate experience. I didn’t necessarily find the perfect school—no such school exists—but I do feel that I decided on the college that is the best fit for me holistically.

Lead Image Credit: Carolyn Richter