Before leaving high school, one of the most difficult decisions a teenager has to face is figuring out what college they want to go to, if that’s what they want to do at all. 

Rochelle Farris runs the College and Career Center at McNary High School and teaches students how to figure out what college is best for them, how to start applying, supplies information about scholarships and more.

Farris recommends focusing academics first when searching for the right colleges. Look for schools based on interests and passions rather than mascots or sport teams. 

“Find a place where you can do the same kind of activities that fill your tank,” Farris said. Students who surround themselves with positive activities that fit their personalities typically experience better physical and mental health.

Campus location can be another major influence on where students decide to attend college. 

“Going and visiting is the best thing,” Farris said. 

Keep an eye out for how schools treat religion, diversity, classroom sizing, clubs and activities, and, above all, majors. Most schools now have virtual tours and current students who can talk to on prospective students through their websites. After visiting colleges, it’s a good idea for students to make a pros and cons list about every thing that is important to them.

If the college is far enough away that commuting isn’t possible, students have to figure out where they will live. Being away from home can make some feel homesick, but living on campus allows students to be a part of the community. On-campus living can also contribute to academic success, Farris said. Students who live on campus often have higher graduation rates than those who don’t. 

Between tuition, the cost of books and all the other living expenses, college of any sort comes with a large price tag. It will mean many students need financial aid or some sort of assistance to make it through to graduation. 

 “In the end, financial aid is going to be huge. What I encourage students not to do is limit their options based on cost at first. Apply to all of the schools that you are interested in,” Farris said. “I typically tell students apply to one community college as a back up option, two state schools, and two or three private schools.” 

While the costs of private college might seem overwhelming, a lot of private schools have deeper pockets which means there is more money to offer for scholarships. 

One thing Farris would rather students not stress over is their major. Between 50 and 70 percent of students will end up changing their major at least once. 

Farris said, “It’s okay not to know. You don’t have to worry about finding the perfect school. I believe that there are multiple good fit schools for every student.”