Photo Credit: Brandie Raasch

Photo Credit: Brandie Raasch

How do you explain that feeling when you get into a new place and immediately feel at home? If you’ve seen the “Sex and the City” movie, picture the moment when Carrie first opens her fabulous new walk-in closet at her Fifth Avenue penthouse, that is what it’s like. For those of us heading to college, it’s important to look for a similar connection when picking your new home for the next four years. This may be overwhelming, but here are some tips on what to look out for to find which campus is the best fit for you.

Ranking and reputation

A school’s reputation is a powerful factor in making your college decision (and in pleasing your parents). Prestige is attractive, but you shouldn’t choose a campus simply because it’s an Ivy League school. You also have to consider what field of study you might pursue. If business is in your future, it may surprise you that Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported that undergrad business programs at Notre Dame and University of Virginia were more successful at securing jobs post-graduation for their students than those at the University of Pennsylvania. Make sure to thoroughly research every option before narrowing down your choices.

Plan a visit

Timing is everything when you’re visiting colleges. Though it may be convenient for you to go over the summer or during spring break, try to time your visit for when classes are in session so you can get an accurate vibe of the school. By seeing how students interact, what type of activities are going on and how the environment feels on a regular day, you can better imagine yourself at the school. If accepted, you may also want to visit again on admitted students’ weekend, since its extra energetic during those special weekends.

Stay overnight

College is about continued learning, career ambitions and GPAs, but let’s be honest— it’s also about the social aspect. You may hear stories about the Greek scene or the nightlife at a college town, but it’s best to get a glimpse of the experience yourself. If you can find yourself a host—maybe someone who graduated from your high school or a friend’s older sibling—and they’re generous enough to take you under their wing for a night or two, do it. This is a great way to see the dorm situation and get a candid insider perspective on the college life. If you can’t find a host or aren’t visiting during the school year, talk to alumni who can tell you about student life at that school.

Check out the living situation

College dorms are nothing like home. You’re considered extremely lucky at a public school if you share a bathroom with less than 10 people and never run into critters like infamous bed bugs during your stay. So when you’re visiting, pay extra attention to the dorm conditions. Other aspects to consider are resident policies—gender-neutral housing is becoming increasingly popular—and price. Note that during campus tours, the dorms you visit may not necessarily be representative of all the housing options available. Try to find a student who is willing to take you around and give you a realistic taste of all the dorms on campus.

Sit in on a class

The best way to gauge what class size is best for your learning experience is to sit in on class. If you find yourself drowning in a large lecture hall or sweating in a small class, you know to run the other way. It’s a good idea to call the department beforehand so you can get permission and the class schedules. If you’re visiting during the summer, find out if you can at least view the largest lecture halls and smallest classrooms to get a sense of the range of class sizes. Keep in mind that class size will always depend on your major—pre-meds and psych students often get the most crowded intro courses due to the largest amount of interest.

Consider finances

Will you be in serious debt after graduating? Will it be worth it? Make sure to visit the school’s financial aid offices with your parents and speak to an advisor, who can estimate how many student loans, grants or scholarships you will likely receive if you attend the school, based on your family’s income. Also make sure to inquire about extra costs not factored into tuition, like transportation expenses and textbook costs.

Ask about professional opportunities

Depending on your career goals, you should also consider the resources and connections available at the college. For instance, if you want to work in finance, going to school in New York City will give you greater opportunity to intern. Visit the career center, and ask current students how its services help with job connections and resume building.

Go with your gut

If you love it, you love it. If something doesn’t feel right, then it’s not for you. Look for a connection, a click. Call it clichéd if you’d like, but you’re looking for a perfect match.

For other rankings, such as colleges with the best food, the most conservative campus, the most Greek social scenes, etc., check out: Princetonreview.com/college-rankings.aspx and sign up for free access. Collegeprowler.com also gives reviews of the general attractiveness of the student body, while also providing insight to the academics and the general stereotypes of the school. And of course, for a list of majors, clubs, traditions and more, you should look up the actual school Web site.