Choosing the best college is hard. With a multitude of factors to consider and hundreds of options, the task can be overwhelming. And if we were to leave it to our Asian parents, chances are you’d be shoved with only the prestigious options, like Oxford, Cambridge, Yale and Harvard.
The truth is, “the best college” may not mean the same for every individual. There are no two students who are carbon copies; likewise, no two colleges are exactly alike either.
Rather, it all boils down to finding a college that fits your needs, preferences, interests and goals so that you can grow and maximise your potential.
Here are five crucial steps to choosing a college that’s best suited for you.
Step #1: Examine who you are – strengths, passions & goals
“Everyone is a genius. But if you judged a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
The first and most pivotal step of all is to reflect and assess yourself objectively.
As a young student, you may be easily influenced and pressured, whether it’s by your parents, close friends or relatives. It’s important to start this journey by asking these 3 key questions.
#1a: How are your grades?
Sensibly, your grades would appear to be the alpha and omega during this transition from high school to college. However, instead of harping over the number of As you scored, try dissecting your grades by subjects. Look for subjects that you performed well in, and recognise your weaknesses in the subjects that you did poorly.
Why? Because (1) your grades speak volumes about your aptitude, and (2) it reflects the strength of your foundation in a certain subject. With a better understanding of academic strengths, you’ll be able to spawn clearer career paths based on your forte.
#1b: What are you destined to do in life?
Let’s face it – looking at a list of careers at a tender age of 17 and declaring, “This is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing” can be pretty daunting.
If you are one of those who are utterly confused and burdened by the enormity of the decision, know that it’s okay to be unsure. Take the time to understand your options and do your research – from understanding the working world and employment trends to practical considerations like rewards, time and commitment.
Choosing the right college course is by no means an easy task, so don’t rush into the process.
#1c: What do you want from college outside of your academic life?
College should not be all about whipping out straight As. With an unemployment rate of 25% for fresh graduates, what does that spell out to us?
Employers are now seeking more than just the grand frame of a 1st class honours degree from a prestigious university. They’re hunting for graduates with leadership skills, critical thinking, communication skills and good attitude.
Take this time to think about your hobbies and hidden passions, and dig deep to find some of the things that you’ve always wanted to do. College is brimming with opportunities for you to experiment and explore!
Step #2: Rank your college priorities
Now that you have a fair assessment of yourself, you can start sizing up on what’s most important to you. After all, there are more than 400 tertiary education institutions in Malaysia, and not all of these will be your match made in heaven.
Here are 4 important priorities that you need to consider.
#2a: What is your financial plan?
Money does matter, because your budget will dictate which college you can or cannot afford. On average, parents spend about 42% of their savings on their children’s education. Know that these are the blood, sweat and tears of your parents in exchange for your education.
#2b: Where do you want to study?
Do you want to attend a college that’s close to home? Or do you want to flee as far away as possible? Are you someone who loves the fun and excitement of a big city, or do you prefer the comfort of a close-knit community in a suburban college?
The location of your college can be an important decision factor for some. After all, college will be your home for at least a year (sometimes more). Hence, honing down a college location that is ideal for you actually holds more gravity than you imagine.
#2c: What is your ideal campus environment?
Some colleges are “city campuses” where college buildings are spread throughout the city,while others have huge campus grounds that cover acres of land. Do you prefer a small, tight-knit student population, or are you itching for larger-scale institutions where diversity is at its best?
Campus climate—the overall feel and environment of a college—is unique at each institution.
Try to find a match that’s good for you, or at least, steer clear of a mismatch. Your campus setting and peer environment can have a great influence on your academic and college life.
#2d: What support services does the institution have?
Studies show that one of the most important factors in quality education is service systems and support for students. These facilities help to decrease dropout rate and simultaneously increase the diversity of student experience.
From career advice and academic tutoring to mental health support and counselling (anxiety among college students is a real thing), these support services can be pivotal in ensuring your success in and beyond college.
Step #3: Research and shortlist colleges
Now that you’ve racked up a clear picture on where your priorities lie and what are the aspects that are most important to you, it’s time for the heavy stuff — researching colleges!
Here are 3 key things to look out for.
#3a: What is the college’s rating and reputation?
While we do not have an overall university ranking system in Malaysia, we do boast our own rating system called MyQUEST for private colleges, and SETARA for private universities. Rest assured that these rating systems are drawn up by the Ministry of Higher Education and hence, are solid tools to indicate the quality of education of the institution.
Furthermore, if the courses that you’ve been fishing for are governed by professional bodies (read: Law, Medicine or Architecture), do ensure that the course that you are taking at a particular institution is accredited by the relevant bodies.
Now, before you uphold these reputations as the holy grail, bear in mind that ratings shouldn’t be the “be all and end all” of your decision-making process. It is merely ONE of the various aspects that you need to weigh.
#3b: What is the feedback from alumni and current students?
A great way to find out more about a college is to speak to people who have experienced it – enrolled students and recent graduates.
By running after the insiders’ point of view, you can 1) obtain a reality check on what you think you know about the college or course, 2) absorb information you don’t already know, and 3) attain clarity about your decision.
But remember that while it is great to consider multiple opinions and recommendations, know that at the end of the day, the ultimate decision still falls on your shoulder, and only you are capable of making your own sound judgement!
#3c: Have you visited the college campus?
“Pictures shown are for illustration purposes only”. Sound familiar? Yes, it may be fine to be
deceived sugarcoated on a RM20 meal but your future college? It certainly doesn’t sound like the best idea!
Once you’ve shortlisted the potential colleges, give it a go at Open Days. Make sure to arm yourself with a list of questions that are significant to you — course structure, class size, facilities and resources, or the availability of your preferred clubs and societies. If possible, try speaking to some of the lecturers, as they may give you a different viewpoint.
At the end of your campus visit, you’ll definitely have a better perspective of the college.
Step #4: Keep an open mind
While everything above may seem like one heck of a ride (read: ranking your list of priorities, researching and visiting college campuses), do not be flabbergasted if you realise that ultimately, you’ve changed your mind.
After all, you’re constantly uncovering new things about yourself, so do understand that change is inevitable. There is no need to stubbornly stick with your original ranking of priorities, nor do you have to stand firm by what may have been your first choice of college.
Ultimately, keep bombarding yourself with questions about your preferences, passions and goals, while remaining open to all possibilities.
Step 5: Go forth and take the leap
And finally… it’s time to make a decision.
No doubt, it can be a knotty process, but it will be worth it. Mull over where you felt the most comfortable and what colleges offered the best opportunities.
Certain colleges offer limited spaces for certain courses as well as scholarships, so it’s best that you act fast. Avoid being hasty and settling with rash decisions, but don’t fall prey to procrastination. Be mindful that different colleges have different intakes, and you don’t want to be left stranded waiting for months before you start.
We highly recommend you to stop and take the time to truly evaluate what aspects of a college are needed in order for you be happy and fulfilled as you brace through college. Remember that there is no one best college – only what’s the best college for you.
Good luck in searching your soulmate college!