Each year, students all across the country are faced with the arduous task of choosing a college that is the right fit for them. Whether you’re a high school senior researching colleges for the first time, or a nontraditional student returning to school after a long break, choosing where you want to go to college is a highly personal and sometimes stressful decision.
There’s a lot to consider when trying to find a college that’s a good fit. So how do you choose the school that’s the best fit for you? Below we highlight some of the most important considerations that you should research before choosing the college or university that’s right for you.
There’s no question that college is expensive. The cost of tuition at public universities has risen by over 296 percent since 1995. Additionally, out of state tuition has risen 226 percent, and the cost of attending private universities has risen by 179 percent. The sharp increase in college tuition has left students and their families wondering what the best fiscal option is when choosing a college.
For a number of families, a student’s financial aid package may be the deciding factor in which college they choose. As such, it’s crucial that students understand and make the most of their financial aid package in order to lessen the financial burden of college when the time comes.
This financial aid package may include a mixture of federal and private student loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities. When these factors are considered, students can make an informed decision about their future in higher education.
Although cost plays a huge role in determining whether or not a school is the right fit, location is another primary factor that students should consider when choosing their ideal college experience. In fact, the location of students’ chosen university can impact their life in a lot of ways.
First, the distance from your hometown to your college can play a significant factor in cost. While many students choose to go to a college out-of-state or abroad, others choose to stay closer to home for convenience’s sake. Typically, out-of-state colleges are slightly more costly, but make up for it with new experiences and new people. Staying closer to home may ease some of the financial burdens associated with going to school. Regardless of your choice, it’s important to remember that location of college does play a factor in cost.
Additionally, setting may play a factor in your success in college. Some people require year-round sunshine in order to maintain their mental health. Others have a passion for outdoor activities and may need a more diversified climate. Some prefer rural living, while others need a bustling nightlife in order to let loose on the weekends. These are important considerations to keep in mind when finding your ideal school environment.
Institution Type and Size
For many students, the size of institution also plays a role in choosing their ideal college. While some may prefer a small liberal arts college in a rural town, others prefer a more urban and populated university.
In addition to size, there are a number of institution types that students should research in order to determine an ideal environmental fit.
● Public Colleges
Public colleges are funded by local and state governments and typically have lower tuition rates when compared to their private counterparts, especially for in-state students. Enrollment at these schools can vary, but many have over 30,000 students in attendance in any given semester.
● Private Colleges
Private colleges are independent schools that set their own policies and goals and rely mainly on tuition, fees, and private sources of funding in order to provide students with an adequate education. Typically, these schools have fewer students than public schools do, with average enrollment hovering at around 1,900 students.
● Online Degree Programs
Online degree programs are an increasingly lucrative option for students who want a great education, but don’t necessarily want to relocate, find a new job or can’t attend traditional on-campus classes. Many public, private, and community colleges now offer fully comprehensive online degree programs that allow students to earn their associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees completely online. There are many advantages to online learning, including the versatility to work from home and at your own pace.
● For-Profit Colleges
For-profit colleges are educational institutions that operate as a business. Their goal is to provide quality education to their students, while simultaneously offering a profit to the shareholders that fund their corporation. They typically have higher out-of-pocket cost, and credits may not be transferable to other colleges.
● Community Colleges
According to the College Board, community colleges “offer many types of educational programs, including those that lead to associate degrees and certificates.” After completing their education at a community college, some students are career ready, while others choose to transfer to a four-year institution in order to earn their bachelor’s degree. Community colleges allow students to try college at a lower price. Costs to attend community college are generally lower, with the average tuition resting at around $3,347 per year.
● Liberal Arts Colleges
Liberal arts colleges are schools which offer a broad base of courses meant to train you in the liberal arts, including history, languages, science, and mathematics. Most are four-year programs that lead to earning a bachelor’s degree, and prepare you for a number of career paths after graduation.
● Vocational Colleges
Vocational colleges offer students specialized training that they can use to prepare for a certain career. For those interested in the culinary arts, dental hygiene, or welding, vocational colleges are a great alternative to the more traditional college environment.
For some, diversity is a key factor in choosing whether or not a college is the right fit. As such, it’s important to look into the demographic makeup of your school of choice.
The College Board’s Big Future website has tools that allow you to look at the statistics of the student body, viewable under the Campus Life tab. This tool allows you to determine where students are from, the gender balance of the school, and the socioeconomic diversity of the institution.
USA Today author Brianna McGurran writes that this information can be useful in a number of ways. While a large state school such as UC Berkeley has a great reputation, 85 percent of its students are originally from California. If you are looking to engage with a more diverse student population, choosing a school with more geographic diversity might be a better option.
Above all else, it’s important that you keep your end goals in mind when pursuing a college education. For some, college may be a networking opportunity where students are able to meet and learn from the brightest in their field. For others, college is an opportunity to branch out and try new things until they find what they’re passionate about. Others still use college as an opportunity to travel outside of their hometowns. Keep those goals in mind when choosing your ideal college.
Quality of Campus Visit
When putting forth the effort to research potential colleges, nothing says more than a firsthand view of the college itself, which is why visiting college campuses is an important venture when choosing a school.
A campus visit provides potential students with the unique opportunity to envision what campus life is like on a daily basis. To truly understand the college experience at that particular institution, it’s important that you visit the sit in on a lecture and meet with other students who already know the ropes.
To truly get a feel for what student life is all about, the college board recommends that you participate in some of the following when visiting your choice schools:
- Interview with an admissions officer
- Sit in on a class or two that interest you
- Set up a meeting with a professor in your chosen major
- Ask students how they feel about classes, their transition to university, and what they love about their school
- Take a full tour of the campus including the campus facilities
- Stay overnight in the dorms
- Check out campus media, including radio, newspaper, and other publications
Although you may not be able to visit every college on your list, try to choose one of your top two schools and visit them as early as possible. You won’t regret the extra effort.
Choosing your ideal college is no simple task, and there are a lot of factors to consider before deciding if a school is the right fit for you. While academics and reputation are clearly key factors, things like location, size, and cost are equally compelling considerations when choosing where you’ll pursue your education.