It will be your home for the next three to five years. More than likely, it will also be your first time on your own. Since choosing a college will be one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a young adult, it only makes sense to research your choices seriously and extensively. Here are some critical elements to focus on before making your final decision.
LOCATION Two main things to consider: distance from home and weather. If you enjoy the convenience of a home-cooked meal and your mother’s personal laundry service, you might not want to attend a college that’s a five-hour flight away. If you like soaking up the sun better than shoveling snow, Cleveland probably isn’t going to be the place for you.
ACADEMICS What are the admission requirements for the schools you’re interested in? If you know what you want to major in, find out which colleges offer it, and also how their programs rank nationally.
SIZE/STUDENT BODY A major factor in your college experience, affecting everything from class size to getting around campus. Can you thrive in a class of 500 people? Or do you desire the personal attention and interaction that comes with smaller class size?
HOUSING It may have been cool spending the weekend in a dorm room at summer camp, but can you handle an entire school year? How about four years? Also, how close is your on-campus residence to the places you need to be, such as the team’s athletic complex, your classes or the library?
SCHOLARSHIP AVAILABILITY Not all college programs can offer full scholarships to every player on the roster. Would you be willing to accept a partial scholarship to play? If your grades are good enough, you also may be able to earn an academic scholarship.
LEVEL OF COMPETITION Be realistic when considering how much playing time you’ll see. Of course you want to be in the game at crunch time, with thousands of screaming fans cheering you on. But are you willing to wait a few years for that opportunity? If immediate playing time is your top priority, scour the team’s depth chart. You may find that enrolling at a smaller school your best option for making an impact early.
TIME COMMITMENT You already know playing college sports will be time consuming, but do you want it to completely run your life? How long is the season? How much time will be spent traveling? Are you mentally and physically prepared to wake up for 6 a.m. workouts? If you choose to play a collegiate sport, you’re there to be a student first, an athlete second and a social butterfly a distant third.
COACHING STAFF A coach will say just about anything to land you in his program. It ultimately comes down to who you feel comfortable with and trust most. Take into account their coaching style, philosophy and how they expect you to contribute to their program. Also, try to get to know the entire coaching staff, from position coaches to the strength coaches, because a majority of your time will be spent with them—the coaches you don’t see on ESPN or read about in the newspapers.
EMPHASIS ON ACADEMICS Does coach value academics? Check out a school’s student-athlete graduation rate and each team’s academic performance ranking. Consult the STACK Elite 50, which ranks colleges on both academic and athletic measures. Also, check to see if a school offers team tutors and study hall sessions.
FACILITIES Plenty of your time will be spent at team facilities: stadium, arena, weight room and trainer’s rooms. Is training in a state-of-the-art facility important to you? Will lifting in the same gym as former school legends get you fired up?
THE TEAM You’ll be spending the bulk of your college days with these guys. Do you see yourself fitting in? Are there players you share common bonds with, such as enrollment in the same major and/or classes? Are there players on the team from your home town or region?