10 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a College

Students cheer at a game

The four years a person spends at a university for their undergraduate studies can be life-changing. Do you want those years (that you’re paying for) to be spent in an uncomfortable manner? These are questions that you should at least think about when choosing your home for the next four years.

Will I really be okay with being far from home?

At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I was planning to apply for colleges in New York. I’d recently decided that I wanted to major in music performance. What better place to start a music career than in New York city?! I thought about how I’d feel being so far from home (as a Louisville, Kentucky native), but honestly thought I wouldn’t mind. As my senior year progressed, auditioning at a New York school was looking less realistic. In the end, all five of the schools I applied to ended up being within a two hour drive from home. Obviously I subconsciously wanted to be close to home, and I’m so glad that it worked out this way.

Living off-campus has made me more homesick than ever, so I typically see my parents every month when they come to spend the weekend with me or pick me up to go home. A lot of my friends are also out-of-state students, but they can only get home by plane. I definitely don’t envy them, and I’m glad I made the decision (intentional or not) to stay relatively close to home.

What is the size of the school (within the university) that I’ll be attending?

When making my final college decision, everyone told me to make sure I would feel comfortable with the size of the university. When I finally decided on IU, the response I got was “that’s a big school.” I ignored these comments because I didn’t see how the size of a university can make that big of a difference. Perhaps the suburban private schoolgirl in me just wanted a change from my graduating high school class of less than 200 people.

Anyways, I still stand by my opinion that the university size doesn’t matter. At a school like IU, you pretty much identify with the school you were accepted into. I could be biased, as a Jacobs student, but before adding a minor, outside field, and certificate program to my degree, I wouldn’t have had to interact with anyone outside of Jacobs. In that case, just make sure you’re okay with the size of the school within the university you’ll fall into.

Students walk in front of an IU building

How can I get involved with “my people” from the moment I come on campus?

This is a BIG one for me. A good amount of the Black population at IU is from Indiana and they knew each other from the Groups Program. On the other hand, I’m an out-of-state student who went to a predominantly White high school. I had almost NO connections within my ethnic group when I came to school at IU, and if it wasn’t for a list of Living Learning Communities on the housing website, I would probably still be alienated to this day.

If you’re a person of color or part of the LGBTQ+ community, I can’t emphasize how important it is to connect with the other people on campus who identify the way you do FROM THE START. A lot of college friendships begin within the first couple months of school, and you don’t want to be left out. Look for any way to get connected (Hudson and Holland, Groups, 21st Century Scholars, and the Thomas I. Atkins LLC in the Forest Residence Hall are all resources for Black students at IU).

Is this college really worth giving up a bunch of scholarships from another institution?

I asked myself this question countless times during my college decision-making process. The answer was yes then and it’s still yes now. It’s no secret that tuition for out-of-state students at IU is steep. Three semesters into my degree, and I can honestly say that while paying more than three times the amount an Indiana resident would pay, I don’t regret choosing IU over schools that I could’ve attended for cheaper. This is probably the Jacobs student in me speaking, but the resources you can take advantage of at this school are too good to pass up. Scholarships (which schools are typically generous with here at IU) also tend to make the deal look a little sweeter.

In my opinion, you just need to ask yourself this question, so you know what you’re getting into and can take advantage of literally every single opportunity attending this school offers. Don’t invest money into your education if you’re not going to ensure that you get a huge return on that investment.

Students in a dorm

What are the prospects for housing?

This one is simple. Ask around to see how long students tend to live on campus. Apparently there’s a culture of moving off campus after freshman year at IU. I’m not sure if I planned on living on campus all four years, but this is something to consider financially. Sometimes off-campus housing is actually cheaper than residential living, so do your research.

Which college will accept my AP/dual credit?

If you took any AP classes during high school, you need to consider this. I only ended up needing to take a couple gen ed classes on campus, but if I had planned more strategically, I probably could have avoided all of them. In my opinion, being able to avoid taking classes that don’t directly apply to your major is ESSENTIAL. I’ve already mentioned all the fancy academic achievements I’m adding to my degree, but I wouldn’t have had room for all of that if I didn’t come in with a lot of college credit. More importantly, who wants to sit and potentially get a B in a calculus class as a music major?!

Long story short, do your homework on how to finesse your way out of a lot of unnecessary stress (transferable credits from a community college or a university in your home state that might grant tuition remission or scholarships). The IU Office of Admissions has a Credit Transfer Service you can use to see which courses may count for credit.

Pre game event of IU football

Am I here strictly for academics or for “the experience” and education in equal amounts?

I don’t mean to make those who value a social life feel bad with this question. All I’m saying is, if you like to go to parties with your friends, make arrangements for that and make sure to choose a school environment that’ll be conducive to your happiness. On the flip side, if you don’t like going to sporting events, don’t let the people at the rec center during orientation week convince you to buy the sports package in the spirit of “branching out” and “fulfilling your college experience.”

Honestly, I think IU is great for either type of person. As a homebody who doesn’t do social events at all, I feel comfortable going to school here, and I know the people who like to socialize enjoy it here as well.

What special major programs does this school offer?

I (kinda) switched my major this past semester. While I’m still pretty much held to the same requirements I was as a Performance Major, a BSOF (Bachelor of Science and an Outside Field) aligns more with my career goals. This is a degree plan that is unique to IU, and I wish I’d started off my freshman year in this major!

Basically, if you don’t feel like a certain degree plan aligns perfectly with your interests, chances are there’s some way to make your own path by using minors, certificate programs, other majors, etc. You’re the only person who knows when you feel like you don’t belong, and advisors can’t read minds, so be honest with them and yourself. I feel so much more confident about my future since I’ve made the switch.

People laughing together at a table

Are there career development resources within my school of study?

Jacobs has Project Jumpstart, Kelley and O’Neill (SPEA) have Undergraduate Career Services. If you are deciding between IU and another school, does that other school have career development resources? I promise that mock interviews and resume coaching will come in handy.

*Editor’s note: In addition to school-specific career centers within every school on campus, there are many career development resources that all students have access to.

Do I really need my car on campus?

I think having a car on campus is just a rite of passage at this point. Are you really too bougie to ride the bus, take a Lyft, or sign up for Zipcar? Is it really worth paying ridiculous amounts of money to park your car at the stadium? You have to ride the bus to get to the stadium anyways! If your answer to these questions is “yes,” you have a couple options. Either move off campus (to take advantage of apartment parking lots) or attend a school that is friendly to student drivers.

Oboe BSOF major, class of 2022

Obviously, I MUST mention that I’m a sophomore pursuing an Oboe BSOF degree from the best school at IU. My major isn’t the end-all be-all to who I am though. If someone said “I need to urgently locate Jordan Plunkett. I’ve never seen her, but I need to pass on information to her”, the response from anyone who knows me would be “Well, first of all, she’s Black, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find her in one of the Jacobs buildings, but she’s definitely at the Simon Music Library working/sleeping in the big chairs that are placed as soon as you enter. Her hair is either blowdried out or in a big afro poof at the top of her head, and you can’t miss her brown teddy bear fabric coat or super over-the-top eyelashes.”

Back to boring non-physical attributes, everything I do is, in some way, artistically centered. My initial interest in the arts actually stemmed from my desire to see women who share my same (aforementioned) physical attributes reach the top within the world of classical music. Now that my outside field is in Arts Management, I’m starting to approach my initial goal through making space for performers who look like me rather than being one of the performers who occupies space. In my free time, I am a mentor for Base of Women, but my most proud and recently added activity is posting to my personal blog (morenoire.com). You can probably guess what I talk about over there from the title, but take a look for yourself anyways.

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