“It’s a tough decision,” Ashley Harrison, a senior at Orchard Park High School, said about her plan to study biology at Canisius College, “but visiting campuses helps you get the feel of what it would be like to go there.”

It’s that time of year again, when there are high school seniors who know for sure what college they are going to, or they’re like me and are still deciding between a couple of colleges. Deciding on a college is so important to a senior. There are several different criteria seniors look for in their dream college. These include location, size of the school, sports and activities, academics, money and scholarships, and overall feel of the school’s community.

After talking to many seniors at several schools, it seems most students top choices are within a one- to four-hour drive; several people are commuting to area schools; and only a few are going far away. Being away from home and living the “college experience” is a dream to some, and a worry to others.

“Going away to college will be a life-changing experience,” said Caitlin Sion, a senior at Orchard Park High School who plans on attending SUNY Fredonia State. “I’ll be able to achieve a whole new level of independence and freedom.”

The type of area the school is in is important, too. Some students prefer an urban campus, while others like the feel of a college being its own town like Fredonia or Cortland.

The size of the college also is a big deal. A student can go to a university with more than 30,000 students, a midsize school with around 12,000 students, or a small private school with a couple thousand students.

PJ Sullivan, a senior at Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School, is leaning toward Hilbert College because, “It’s small and so is Timon so I know I would fit in.”

It’s necessary that students have a lot of opportunities outside the college classroom. This could be playing a sport or intramurals, getting involved in student government or joining a sorority/fraternity, a dance team or a club.

Sarah Weber, a senior at Orchard Park High School, plans on getting involved at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

“I plan on trying all kinds of new things, being super-involved and meeting lots of new people,” she said, adding that she already has met her roommate at an open house and is excited to make memories with her.

It’s also important to look into the types of classes you will be taking before you decide on a major.

Gen Clifford, a senior at Mount Mercy Academy, said, “I’m not 100 percent sure I want to go into the field of study I’m thinking about, so Erie Community College is the smart choice for me.”

If you don’t know where you want to go, declaring an undecided major also is an option.

There’s also financial issues to consider. Any amount of financial aid can help with the college decision. Most schools offer merit scholarships, based on grade-point average and SAT/ACT scores. Some colleges also offer alumni, community service, first generation, music, arts and athletic scholarships. I’m looking at which college is offering me the most money.

“I applied to colleges based on getting a good scholarship,” said Dominic Buttino, a senior at Lancaster High School who is planning to attend the University at Buffalo. “I realized you have to go to a college that gives you a great education at an affordable price.”

Last, but certainly not the least important criteria, is how a person feels at the college. Do you see yourself being there for years? Are the teachers nice and supportive? It’s important you feel comfortable in the dorms, libraries, dining halls, gyms and classrooms.

Sydney Wawrzyniak, a senior at Orchard Park High School who is leaning toward Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., is paying attention to how the students interact.

“I can tell how the students talk to one another that they are kind and helpful,” she said. “The college must have a good community.”

College is all about furthering your education in a field that you love. Going to college helps you succeed in the future.

“I want to take on the world,” Gen said.

“I don’t want to go to a school that focuses on parties and drinking,” said Sarah.

With the decision deadline fast approaching (next Thursday), it’s time to make that decision. Good luck.

Lizzie Kozoduj is a senior at Orchard Park High School. Since writing this story, she has made her final decision. She plans to attend Canisius College in the fall.