Choosing a school can feel like the scariest and hardest decision you will ever have to make, but there are a few helpful things to consider before locking in your choice on May 1st. Coming from a home where neither of my parents attended a traditional four-year school, with no older siblings to ask questions to, just my twin brother and I, I know what it feels like to be entirely lost and feel in the dark when it comes to college. I ended up touring eighteen schools before making my choice, and I toured Saint Joe’s six times before I deposited at Admitted Students Day! SJU was actually the first college tour I ever went on, and I knew right from that day that it was where I would end up, but I doubted myself so many times before making what would become the best decision of my life.
To organize my thoughts, I made an excel graph with a column naming every school I would be touring (shocking that I ended up as an accounting major, right?) and I put a row across the top of every factor that I could consider or ask questions about while there. My factors were things like distance from home, food options, total population, freshman retention rate, Greek Life availability, whether or not freshmen could have cars, and plenty of other way-too-specific criteria. What I ultimately learned from this is that I would not get anywhere unless I stepped on campus.
I might sound biased because I am a Hawk Host, but touring a campus taught me more than any box on my graph could have. The factors became completely different. When I was on campus, I looked for school spirit, activity on campus, and community. Every school is going to have dorms and a cafeteria, but what you are choosing are the people you want to spend the next four years with and the opportunities you want to have over that time. Walking around Saint Joe’s campus, I always felt like I was talking to people that I wanted to be friends with. The professors that I met were people who I could tell were paying attention to me and wanted to help me figure out where I belonged. I knew that this was the kind of place where I would thrive in college, and the energy of Admitted Students Day sealed the deal for me.
To break it down, I will put the most important factors into two categories, logistic factors, and personality factors. As far as logistics, the most important factors for me were being near a city and being far enough away from home that I felt like my person while still being close enough to go home when I needed to. This helped me narrow down my search to Philly, Baltimore, Washington DC, Allentown, and Fairfield, the size of the city did not matter so much as long as there were things to do near me. All of these places allowed me to stay within a three-hour radius of my home in northern New Jersey. This also made touring much easier, because knowing a region I was looking in allowed me to tour multiple schools a day when I was driving out somewhere.
Once I had the locations set, it was easy to focus on the personality of each school. My parents made me do this (awful, embarrassing) test at every school, where we would have lunch in the main cafeteria and sit at a full table of students. Saint Joe’s was one of two schools where the students at the table immediately asked if we were considering SJU for college and introduced themselves, ready and willing to answer every question we had. It is completely different to speak with unsuspecting students than it is to talk to a paid and trained tour guide, which made their responses all the more genuine. I got to talk to students about what they are involved in and what kind of events the school puts on that get people the most excited. Hearing from them made me feel like I could picture myself in their shoes only a year later.
When you are trying to figure out how to choose a college, look into the factors that matter to you. If all you care about is finding a school with a specific academic program, do not waste hours looking into school spirit and fun things to do in the area. If you do not have your major figured out yet, do not waste time looking at classes offered. Find the few things that are your personal deal breakers and the rest will fall into place. I am at Saint Joseph’s University four years later, in a class with zero people that went to my high school, after six visits, eighteen other schools, changing my major five times, and not nearly enough time left before graduation. Put yourself, your wants and your needs, first in your college search, and everything will work out better than you could imagine.
– Julianna Abramson, ’20