There are so many possibilities that it's hard to know where to begin, and it's quite frankly overwhelming. I've attended six different colleges now (yikes!) so, the paperwork that makes up actual process isn't that scary any more. You apply, you send all of your transcripts, and hopefully they say yes. What is scary is that my GPA is either borked or really borked, depending on how you evaluate my transcripts, so I have some explaining to do to convince someone who doesn't know me that I still have a snowball's chance in hell of graduating.
When I walk into the front door of college x I'm automatically "someone who must be dealt with separately". I have a disability (PTSD). I'm a student veteran. I have circumstances. All of these are factors in actually being accepted, and there are often special processes and offices and people to talk to about them. There's a disability resource office. There's a veteran coordinator. In the case of California, I'll be a non-resident student until I've actually lived in California for one year, so that's a factor to deal with. I wasn't born in, wasn't stationed in, and didn't go to high school in California, so that means there are some programs I'm not eligible for. The more of these things I can get sorted out now, the easier things are when I walk in the door. Or, at the very least, the more I know what questions to ask.
It's also very difficult to account for environment when you're sitting in an office several states away from California. It really matters how big class sizes are, and now much noise there is in classrooms and lecture halls. The total number of students on the campus matters. The amount of general activity on a campus matters. There are things I haven't even thought about that will matter, that I won't know about until I've decided where I'm going to enroll. Which is frustrating, because unknowns are dangerous. Unknowns can derail the entire train. (This is what happened my first semester at Wisconsin. I'd learned to manage at tiny Madison Area Technical College quite well, but being at a large university was quite overwhelming.)
So I'm trying to come up with a set of initial requirements. These are not cast in stone. They're based on anecdotal evidence (my experience) and in some cases a little arbitrary rather than hard research. Consider this a first draft.
- Small class sizes; average students:instructor ratio less than 50:1
- Small to medium overall size: less than 20,000 students
- A disability resource office or center that doesn't mind being peppered with questions
- A veterans coordinator or office that doesn't mind being peppered with questions, preferably staffed by one or more actual veterans
- A student-run veterans organization
- Carpeted classrooms (you have no idea how much this helps)
- Lots of quiet places to study, not just the/a library
- Chill space; quiet space. A park, or a path, or something like that on campus or nearby
- A source of decent coffee, preferably open late
- Ability to get to nearest VA hospital without too much distance/trouble
- Easy access to public transport and/or parking