Are you comfortable with the environment?
Do you need long outdoor hikes to unwind? If so, a school in a large city might not be for you. Do you thrive on the hustle and bustle and need many activities and events to choose from at any time? Then maybe a large university or a school in a large city is for you. Either way, try not to choose based on who you want to become rather than who you are. Your surroundings will change one way or another, but you have some control over what kind of environment you will call home for the next four years.
If you are looking at a very competitive school, consider the caliber of the students you’ll be with. On the one hand, you will be with like-minded individuals with similar interests. On the other hand, by definition, 50% of these people will be in the bottom half of the class. Many of these students, perhaps even you, have never had that experience. Can you handle not being the most intelligent person in class? Will you allow yourself to ask for help?
The flip side is choosing to attend a less selective school than average. Will you be challenged enough by the material, the instructors, and the other students? Will you be challenged to be your best self?
Following the last question, how competitive is the environment? Many of these schools are very competitive for admissions. However, they each have their own culture. And that culture might be super competitive even as a student at the school. Or, the culture may encourage sharing and helping others and not focus on curves and rankings. Or it may be somewhere in between. On that spectrum, where are you most comfortable?
Are you not sure what you want to study? Then maybe a large university with many options will work out better for you. College is the first time you can choose the vast majority of your classes, and there will be a wide range of choices. As you try new classes and meet new people, you may become interested in topics you have never considered. Many small schools focus on a few areas of study – such as business or design. However, if you develop a keen interest in a different subject your school does not offer, you may need to transfer to another college or university to pursue that newfound interest. On the other hand, a large university may already provide you with the option to pursue your new area of study. Transferring to another school often means you will take longer to graduate because some credits may not transfer.
Will you be comfortable with the ideology at the school? If you tend to be somewhat liberal or even very liberal in your views, will you be comfortable at a school that tends to be conservative? And the reverse applies as well. Do you tend to be outspoken about your points of view? Will that be permitted, celebrated, or even tolerated? And, even if you don’t tend to be outspoken about your views, will you be comfortable with how others express their views and to what extent expression of prevailing views and dissenting views are encouraged, promoted, or discouraged? Part of the college experience is learning from others and trying to understand other points of view. However, how the expression of those views is encouraged or tolerated will differ from school to school.