Students’ priorities in selecting a college often include proximity, notoriety, or legacy admissions. However, thanks to the rise in popularity of affordable online learning, individuals can attend schools outside their locale or without a family discount.
Choosing a college takes self-awareness. This quality helps prospective students select a university aligned with their academic strengths and interests. For example, individuals who focus best in smaller classroom settings may thrive at private colleges with lower student-to-faculty ratios. Additionally, certain schools provide unique college degrees that align with niche career goals. These examples just scratch the surface, but our guide reviews other factors that influence the school selection process.
Questions to Consider When Searching for a College
Students may find choosing a college challenging. With so many options, beginning the research process marks the hardest step. To help learners begin, we suggest using the following questions as research prompts.
What Are Your Priorities?
Students should identify their priorities both presently and for the future. Attending a school with friends may positively impact a student in the moment, but if the school’s tuition exceeds their budget, it could result in high student loan payments post-graduation.
Two of the biggest priorities in college selection include affordability and career goal alignment. Many students want financial stability after graduation, and large student loans make this harder to reach. To earn high-paying jobs in their fields, learners must attend quality colleges to position themselves as quality candidates. This means individuals should select a school that closely aligns with their career goals.
Some students receive enough financial aid that a degree’s cost may not influence their decision. For undecided majors, available degrees may not matter either. For these reasons, students should take a self-inventory of their own priorities.
What Are Your Strengths?
Instruction formats vary by university and program, and in the same way, learning styles vary by student. When a person understands which learning style suits them, they understand how they process new information. Choosing a college based on their learning strengths and interests sets them up for success.
Some students learn best attending class in a distraction-free environment. These individuals often succeed in seated courses rather than virtual classes. Auditory learners prefer lecture-based programs, visual learners retain information through powerpoints, and kinesthetic learners enjoy hands-on programs with internship requirements. Some students learn best by working with others, so they might enjoy a program with multiple group project components.
To discover which style they learn best in, we encourage students to think back to their high school experience. They can even ask old teachers, friends, and family members to help identify their personal academic strengths and weaknesses.
What Are Your Interests?
Learners should aim to pick a degree and a school that aligns with their interests. Many individuals find their careers more fulfilling if they have a passion for their work. Reflecting on previous assignments you enjoyed can help you identify what major aligns most with your interests.
Additionally, most colleges require electives and offer extracurricular activities. For many students, college marks a time to explore interests and hobbies. Learners can take interesting courses like wine tasting, horseback riding, or floral arranging to expand their knowledge beyond their major.
Many colleges list the extracurricular activities they offer, including sports, academic clubs, and social activities. Attending a lively campus can also motivate students to engage in their studies more. Clubs also provide valuable networking opportunities for students.
What Do You Want From a College Degree?
Prospective students should take an honest inventory of what motivates them to pursue higher education. This exercise aids the selection process in many ways. For example, some students may partly want to attend college to make new friends and connections. These students may prefer pursuing an in-person college degree at a school with Greek Life or a buzzing student activity center.
Other students want a college degree that allows them to get a head start on gaining professional experience outside of the classroom. These students often thrive in flexible online programs that occur outside of normal business hours. Learners enrolled in these courses can complete internships at local businesses to enhance their resumes.
Prospective students should connect with current students or an admissions counselor to learn whether a prospective school will meet their particular needs.
How Will a College Degree Help You in Your Career?
Learners confident in their career goals often pursue a specialized school, such as art school. Earning a college degree from a prestigious or unique institution sets students apart from other job candidates. Alternatively, choosing a college with multiple degree types and broad majors allows students to switch career paths later in life.
Truthfully, some careers do not require formal education. After deciding what career to pursue, students can use the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to learn more about career requirements. This resource lists the typical entry-level education requirements. Additionally, the BLS provides data on the job growth outlook, median salary, and common job duties for specific careers.
A college’s accreditation status can also impact a student’s career success. Learners should only attend accredited institutions. Schools can earn regional or national accreditation, and employers typically view degrees from regionally accredited schools as more prestigious.
Finding and Applying to College
After prospective students identify their strengths and interests, they can start applying to colleges. Finding the right college takes time, but the effort pays off. To find the answers to questions, check a school’s website or contact its admissions department. We suggest using these research prompts as a guide.
Research the Location
Learners attending a school in their current city or state benefit in a few ways. Students living at home during their studies save money on room and board and receive in-state tuition. If nearby schools do not offer a desired area of study, individuals should consider looking at institutions in other states.
For learners planning to attend school in person in a new city, the location should play a big role in the decision process. Individuals should research the campus area, its safety, and the cost of living. Online crime maps provide information on recent incidents. To estimate how much to budget for rent, students can conduct a simple Google search on nearby apartments.
Take a look at the surrounding area and become familiar with the restaurants and shops. You will not just study in the new city; you will live there, too. Choosing a college in an enjoyable area can create an all-around positive college experience.
Look into Programs and Departments
When choosing a college, look into its programs and departments. Pay attention to the class sizes and program format. Some programs offer more hands-on experience, while others include more lectures and traditional exams. One format may better suit your particular strengths and interests.
Begin the research process by reading through course descriptions. Most institutions publish these online, revealing what topics the classes cover. To learn even more information, request to view a few course syllabi.
Aspiring college students should also pay attention to other program or department requirements, including thesis, capstone projects, or internship components. While admissions counselors typically offer helpful information, reaching out to department faculty may offer additional insight.
Consider Job Connections and Alumni Networks
Networking helps to create a successful career. Selecting an institution that helps learners stay in touch after graduation through an alumni network benefits students long term. Some colleges host annual alumni events. While these gatherings aim to fundraise for the school, they also allow graduates to reconnect, resulting in potential job growth.
When touring future schools, ask if the college partners with alumni or local businesses to provide internship opportunities or mentorship programs. These can lead to jobs upon graduation. Additionally, some schools host career fairs to assist students in finding a job before graduation.
Schools that keep in touch with alumni typically maintain data on graduate success rates. Consider asking the school’s contact person how many recent graduates find employment within six months after graduation. You can also contact alumni directly to learn how the school’s professors support their professional endeavors post-graduation.
Make a Short List
Before making a pros and cons list to aid in choosing a college, we suggest making a short list. A short list should include the student’s top three or five contenders. Since college applications require fees and a significant time investment, a short list will help prioritize which colleges to apply to. Then, students can compare and contrast each school’s qualities to narrow down the list even further.
Students should apply to more than one college. Most colleges accept a limited number of applicants per year, so applying to at least two schools creates a good backup plan. Learners applying to competitive schools, such as ivy-league institutions or private schools, should consider applying to as many as four colleges. Students who do not gain admittance to a college for their freshman year can always apply as a transfer student at a later date.
Calculate the Cost of College
Figuring out the exact cost of college poses a challenge for future college students. Luckily, many colleges provide helpful charts or tools like a cost calculator to assist students. Tuition comprises a large part of a college budget. Schools often offer reduced tuition rates to online and in-state students, and they charge per credit hour. Undergraduate tuition is usually cheaper than graduate tuition.
Other college budget components include course fees, materials, and books. Save money by avoiding electives requiring excessive materials, like a film photography class or a gardening course. Students can also buy used textbooks or rent them.
Financial aid and scholarships lower out-of-pocket college costs. When choosing a college, remember to look at the financial aid packages. Typically, schools offer academic scholarships to incoming freshmen.
Ultimately, the Decision is Yours
At the end of the day, the decision of which college to attend rests entirely on the student. Although parents and mentors guide students in choosing a college based on their strengths and interests, their opinion should not dominate the decision.
Aspiring college students should remember the option to transfer to a new school if their original choice ends up not suiting them. However, conducting thorough research, speaking with alumni and professors, and considering the location and costs can help learners choose the right school on the first attempt.
Earning an undergraduate degree takes four years, but the knowledge an individual gains there continues to impact them for the rest of their life. Learners should attend a school that helps them live up to their full potential.
Tessa Cooper is a freelance writer and editor who regularly contributes to international and regional publications focused on education and lifestyle topics. She earned a bachelor’s in public relations from Missouri State University and is passionate about helping learners avoid high student loan debt while pursuing their dream major. Tessa loves writing about travel and food topics and is always planning her next meal or vacation.
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