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Image from Pexels

Academic rigor. Location: big city, small town, or somewhere in between. Reputation. Student-to-faculty ratio. Financial aid. The majority of people have a pretty uniform criteria for looking at colleges—I’m guessing most, if not all, of those things will play into your decision about where you want to go to college. However, there’s a factor that almost never crosses seniors’ minds… Until they have accepted that admission letter and headed off to school. Of course, by that point it’s too late.

People always joke that weather is the first thing you turn to when you have nothing else to talk about, but in the case of colleges, weather deserves to be a much more important part of the conversation. Let’s break down how to factor weather into your college choice.

1. Where Did You Come From? Where Did You Go?

Time to get nerdy. Start a spreadsheet on Excel, and make a row for each school you’re considering, as well as one for where you live right now. Then make a column for each of the following categories: typical fall weather, typical winter weather, typical spring weather, typical summer weather, annual rainfall/snowfall averages, and humidity averages. You’re going to have to do a little bit of research to fill in all the boxes. There may also be additional categories for weather factors you haven’t yet considered. For example, wind chill. Adam Zhujiang, a freshman at New York University, says, “One of the worst things about living in NYC is that the tall skyscrapers funnel wind through certain streets so its effects are amplified. You’ll get some streets with absolutely no wind, and then all of a sudden you turn the corner, and you regret leaving bed for the day. The wind chill is honestly the worst part about NYC weather.”

2. Compare, Compare, Compare.

What do you love and what do you hate about your local weather? Maybe you live for chilly, foggy days. Maybe radiant, blue skies make you gleeful. Or maybe every time the temperature rises above 90 degrees you become an irascible monster. After you’ve figured out what your ideal climate conditions are, go back to your spreadsheet and examine how close to them each school comes. A rating system is helpful. Zhujiang also says, “Coming from Southern California, I was getting bored of the perpetually warm temperature. Life is more than just constant sunshine and happiness, and I felt like I needed to experience somewhere that had seasons. Also, it makes me appreciate when we do have warm weather.”

3. Turn Up the Heat.

It’s also important to consider how different the weather will be from what you’re used to. Sure, you might have decided blizzards are definitely not in your “dream weather” fantasies, but if you’re from Boston, going to school where you’ll experience snow storms won’t be as a big a deal as for someone from Florida whose only blizzard experiences happen at Dairy Queen. Basically, you’ll be a lot more tolerant of weather that you’ve already had to handle. Hailee Hettrick, a freshman at Cornell University in New York who also hails from balmy Southern California, says, “Adjusting to the weather was gradual during the fall semester as the temperatures slowly dropped, but coming back for second semester, the winter really slapped me in the face. It was -26 accounting for wind chill the first day of classes, and I had a twenty minute walk across campus. After that day, I was grateful for anything above zero.”

4. Know Your Limits.

It’s tempting to simply shrug off the weather and tell yourself you’ll buy a couple extra blankets. But don’t rule out the possibility that the local climate could heavily restrict what you can do. For example, if it’s blazing hot and muggy outside, the chances of you making it to the gym are very, very slim. And that’s on the mild end of the spectrum! Hettrick also says, “I have friends who won’t even bother going to the dining hall if it’s too cold.” Conversely, the weather can actually give you opportunities. Tons of schools have cold-weather sports clubs and teams, including groups for skiing, snowboarding, and figure skating. West Coast colleges offer surf clubs, outdoor backpacking adventures, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, and kayaking.

5. Makin’ It Rain (Money).

This is a slightly more trivial point, but it still counts. What weather is your wardrobe currently equipped for? If you have nine months’ worth of sweaters and wool socks and two weeks’ worth of shorts and sandals, then going to college in Arizona will necessitate a big shopping spree. Zhujiang says, “I have bought a lot: a pair of long johns to wear under my pants, long sleeves, a fleece jacket, a wind breaker, a down jacket, and a peacoat. And gloves and beanies. Most people buy boots, too.” Lauren Zabaleta, a freshman at Southern Methodist University, said, “I definitely had to stock up on some more winter clothes. I bought a couple of coats and quite a few sweaters. But there’s nothing negative about having an excuse to shop!”

I’ve given you a lot to think about. Or at least I hope I have! Weather doesn’t come up very much in the college conversation, but it can have a dramatic effect on your experience. Look before you leap—and hopefully you won’t land in any rain puddles.

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the author

Aja Frost is a college freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which Oprah deemed the Happiest City in America. This suits Aja well, as she has been called "aggressively cheerful" and "someone who thinks the glass is 100% full" on several occasions. Her major? English. Everything else? Undecided. Aja does know, however, that her future profession will involve writing--and lots of it. In addition to the Prospect, she currently writes for her school's newspaper, her school's Her Campus chapter, and three other publications for college women. Besides writing, she LOVES to read. Don't ask her what her favorite books are, because she'll request a couple days and then come back to you with a list five pages long and categorized by genre, best time to read, and coolest characters. Other favorite things in life include oatmeal (it's highly underrated), Anthropologie (overpriced but gorgeous), and gourmet peanut butter (she has fifteen jars and counting.) If you want more weirdness, her Twitter handle is @ajavuu.

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