It’s that time of year again: acceptance letters are being sent out, and instead of college applications, we begin to look at scholarship applications. If you’re anything like I was, as you were getting ready for college, you applied to more than one (or two, or three) schools just in case; and now you have what may seem like the biggest decision you’ve had to make looming over your head.

We spend at least seven months out of the year living at our universities. When it comes down to it, you’re looking for more than just another school—you’re looking for somewhere that can become your home away from home. Some of these things you’ve probably already thought about--I know I had. But there are also some things I’ve learned throughout my freshman year that have made all the difference.

1. Campus Size

This is one we don’t always realize can impact our experience. We all come from different places; which means we’re all comfortable in different setups. The size of your campus can change the entire feel of where you’re at. So take some time to really consider what you want--do you want a campus the size of a small city, where you can see a handful of new faces every day? Or are you content with a smaller campus, where things tend to feel more familiar? It’s a matter of personal preference; but going against what you feel comfortable with can have a heavy impact on your feelings towards this new community.

2. What’s actually around you?

Nobody wants a campus with nowhere around it to go. For the first few weeks you may not go off campus much—it’s still got it’s novelty, and you have to learn the campus before anything! But I promise no matter how good the food is, it will get old, and it’s always nice to have a few reliable options off-campus; or that place with the cute barista when you need to study, and campus just isn’t cutting it. Not to mention, the area you're in will affect the opportunities you have, be it for volunteering or employment.

3. Dorm Conditions

This is an obvious one, and it’s one all of us make a note of when we visit our potential colleges. While we all know that dorm rooms aren’t that big, it’s definitely hard to make somewhere feel comfortable if it’s dirty or run-down. Your dorm room is like your bedroom at home; it is your quiet (or not-so-quiet) place. That is where you will spend the majority of your time when you aren’t in classes, and if you don’t feel at home here, it’s gonna be hard to feel content in other places.

4. Distance From Home

Not everybody wants to come home every weekend, but not everyone feels ready to take on the world independently their freshman year. This is entirely based on how far away you want to get; some people use college as a way to get out of their hometowns and experience a different way of living. Others like where they're at, and hope to stay there for longer than just their time in college. It is important to really consider what you want out of your college experience, and to make sure that you’re doing what’s best for you.

5. The People

“Uh, duh?” I know this seems like a no-brainer, but I never thought about it until I took one of my first campus tours. I remember leaving that day with my mom, and on the car ride home she mentioned how kind everyone seemed to be. People seemed genuinely happy to be at the school we toured that day, and I’m finding now that that can be a huge sign of the overall feel of the campus. Make note of your interactions not just with your tour guides, but with student employees and even just students throughout campus.

6. The “Scene”

As college students, we spend a lot of time in our dorm rooms. You will also spend a lot of time in the library and in various classrooms and academic buildings—but I’ve found studying is much easier in places that feel more relaxed than a table in a library or an empty classroom. This is another one of those things that don’t really come to the forefront of our thoughts when thinking about our college; but be it a set of benches and tables outside for those sunny fall days or a coffee shop in the student union for those dreary winter days, variety can make a world of difference (What’s more, you never know who you could end up meeting in some of those places!).

7. Roommates

Roommates: The Good, The Bad, and The Awful. We hear countless stories as we start preparing for college about experiences with roommates, and the overall effect they can have on your first year. Many people go random, and end up with at least a decent roommate. But, this is someone you’ll spend a lot of time with, and people aren’t lying when they say it’s amazing how much they affect your first year. That being said, take a little extra time to pick a roommate—there are some websites that provide services to match people, and most universities have a Facebook page for their new class. Whether you pick or go random, put some effort into getting to know the person you’re rooming with; you may not be best friends at first, but you reap what you sow.

8. Involvement

The first few weeks of college will be an adjustment and a rollercoaster of emotion. It’s so easy to get caught up in the homesickness that may follow move-in day, and to want to lock yourself in your room. Something I realized was much more helpful than I’d ever imagined was getting involved on campus. Not only did I meet so many people and make some awesome friends, but getting involved on campus looks good on your resumé and applications. Take a minute to look at a listing of your school’s clubs and organizations, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

9. Class Size

Something to think about: Mother really does know best. Class size had never mattered to me when I was looking at colleges; however for my mom, it was an important factor to keep in mind. Being on campus now, and in relatively small classes, I cannot even begin to express the difference your class size will make. Some people prefer to fly below the radar, and if you’re that person, bigger classes may be better. Personally, small classes make me more comfortable because professors learn your name and your personality, and so become more invested in your academic performance. There is more accountability in smaller class sizes, and you have the opportunity to get to know your professors as well.

10. That Gut Feeling

When it comes down to it, you have to go with your gut feeling. Not every college you visit will feel right—and chances are if it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t the place for you. Choosing a college is a big decision; you’re choosing more than a college. You’re choosing a home away from home and the place you will spend the majority of the next four years. Trust your gut—only you can know what will be best for you. And in the end, that’s all that matters.  

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