If I were an alien from outer space interviewing Americans about post-secondary education here on planet Earth, I might surmise that the following characteristics make a college or university great:
- High admission standards
- Very expensive tuition
- Having a football team that plays on TV
- Highly ranked in “the college issue” of a magazine that doesn’t normally cover education
A school might have these characteristics and also offer a great education, but I would argue that none of these attributes logically lead to that outcome. In fact, most American colleges don’t have any of the above characteristics and they still manage to produce many happy graduates who get a great education and go on to get high-paying jobs. Likewise, schools with these glowing attributes produce their share of drop-outs and unhappy graduates. The question then isn’t, “What is the best college?”. It’s “What is the best college for me?” The answer to that is a school that has:
- an environment and culture where you feel comfortable
- outlets for your interests outside the classroom (clubs, organizations, athletics, student chapters of professional associations for your occupational field)
- good student services (advising, career services, tutoring, student life, access for students with disabilities, veterans issues, writing center)
- curriculum that interests and challenges you – look at their schedule to see what courses they offer
- teachers who love teaching and love their subject
- a department for your major where teachers are involved in their professional associations and are creating learning experiences outside of the classroom (example: I majored in art education at a college where I could teach art classes to children on Saturdays and my school hosted an arts camp for children with special needs, and we had an active student chapter of the National Art Education Association)
- the right distance from home for you whether it is across the country or across the street
- a campus the right size for you whether it has 50,000 students or 500
No doubt, you’ll think of many more characteristics a college needs to have for you to be happy there, but this is a start in getting you to realize what a completely individual choice this is. Make yourself a list of what you want and visit at least a few schools so you’ll have some basis for comparison.
Also, make sure you travel to the school in whatever way you will travel to it when you attend. If you’ll be taking public transportation or driving from home every day, see what that commute feels like; it will be as much a part of your daily routine as anything on the campus. It’s just as important to know what it’s like if you’ll be going away to school, and driving, flying or taking a train or bus home occasionally. I advised a student for two years about what would transfer to a particular school. She finally visited the campus the semester before she planned to transfer and she told me it was too far away. She knew all along that it was four hours away, but she didn’t know how long and far that felt until she took that drive.
ECC’s Transfer Director takes students on bus trips to visit colleges around Illinois each semester, and hosts several college fairs each year to bring representatives from many schools to you.