Most high school and returning adult students are faced with the same questions – what factors should I consider when finding the best college for me? This can be a difficult question to answer, yet it all comes down to what is most important to you.
We recommend you stop and take the time to evaluate what aspects of a college are needed in order for you to be happy.
Take some time to evaluate what kind of college experiences you want to have, in and out of the classroom. What resources or features does a college need to offer in order for it to be a good fit for your personality? In which types of learning environments will you be most likely to excel: online or distance learning versus on-campus learning? What are you passionate about studying and does the school offer the degree options you want? What are your career goals? There are many factors to consider when choosing a college and the list below will be a great guide for you as you evaluate your college options.
10 Factors To Consider When Choosing a College
1. National and Regional Accreditation
If you want to earn a degree that will help you to create value in today’s job market, it is important to make sure that the college or university you attend is accredited. Accreditation is a rigorous process that higher education institutions must go through in order to certify that their curriculum is up to par with regional and national standards. Never assume that a college is accredited because not all are – even though they may represent themselves to be extremely reputable.
It’s also important to note that the U.S. Department of Education will not provide students with federal assistance (loans or grants) at a school if it is not accredited.
You will also want to find out if a college is regionally or nationally accredited. While both accreditations are valid and valuable, you will most likely want to make sure that the college or university you attend is regionally accredited. You can find out if a college is accredited by looking on a college’s recruiting website, by reviewing their academic catalogs, by speaking with an admissions officer, or by contacting your regional accreditation agencies directly.
Individual departments and academic programs may also be accredited. This type of accreditation ensures that a program itself meets additional quality standards and is recognized as an accredited program, regionally or nationally. If you already know what type of major you want to pursue, it would be wise to look into the accreditation of the respective department or program offering your major.
2. Academic Reputation
Another factor you should consider when selecting a college is the reputation of it’s academic department(s). Ask around, speak with alumni and potential employers in the industries where you want to work once you graduate.
Research the program’s curriculum as well as the experience of the faculty in your intended major. Find out if the academic program offers hands-on experience and offers internship opportunities or helps you to find internships in your field, prior to graduation.
Another thing you may want to consider is college ranking lists, but keep in mind that the criteria used to generate ranking lists differs from one reporting organization to another, and more importantly, may differ from your personal set of college must-have criteria.
Most national college ranking organizations employ factors including endowments, alumni support, graduation rates, and reputation in their computation of rankings. These lists typically favor private colleges and universities.
An accredited degree from a state university or smaller private university may be just as valuable as a degree from an Ivy League university or other prestigious colleges, so be sure to learn what the ranking list methodology is to see if the ranking criteria are in-line with your personal criteria.
Another academic factor worth looking at is a school’s student-to-faculty ratio. The more students there are per faculty member the less personalized attention you are likely to receive. Keep in mind that this ratio is going to differ for freshman, junior and senior classes, as freshman classes are typically larger.
As you can imagine, the student-teacher ratio will vary by university. For example, at University of California-Berkeley, the average ratio is 17.8 to 1, while the ratio at Columbia University is 6 to 1.
3. College Faculty and Administration
When you think about a college professor, don’t think of them as just another teacher – they are much more than that. In addition to being a teacher, they can counsel with you about your career goals, offer you advice and learning based on their professional experience, help you develop your strengths and identify opportunities, act as a mentor, and when merited, provide you a letter of recommendation.
So when you are choosing a college, examine the quality and experience of the professors it employs. If you already know what you are going to major in then you should scrutinize the professors that influence and support the department you will be involved with.
Visit the campus and chat with professors and speak with students currently in your program of interest about their experience. Good professors will not only provide you with a good education, they will provide you avenues into the real world.
Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for colleges to allow graduate students or adjunct faculty to teach classes. You should find out how many of your courses are going to be taught by tenured professors versus graduate students or adjunct faculty.
4. Physical Location of Campus
One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a college is location. If you don’t like where you are living when you go to college, it may end up being a miserable experience, even if the college has everything you want. Remember that you are likely to end up attending college for four or more years before you earn your degree, so make sure you are comfortable with the location where you’ll be living.
If leaving home is not an option, consider attending a state college or community college in your area. If you are comfortable traveling a long way from home to earn your degree, then consider whether you want to live in a big city, metropolitan area, small town, near the beach, where it’s warm all year, etc.
Also, take some time to consider how the college’s location will affect your education. Colleges in big cities and “party towns” tend to have a lot of distractions that may affect your academic performance.
On the other hand, it may be difficult to find extracurricular off-campus activities if you’re located in a small rural town. Take into account the crime rate and living costs when considering where you want to attend college.
Another option that is becoming increasingly popular and more widely accepted is the distance learning or online classes or degree route. This is especially popular for students that do not have a college or university nearby, for those students that still need to work full or part-time for income or experience purposes, or who need the flexibility of an online degree because of other competing family or personal priorities.
5. Size of the College
The size of the college should also be considered. You may ask, what difference does the size of the university make, as long as my classes are smaller? What constitutes a “large” university or a “small” university? The following are a few of the major differences between large and small colleges.
- Large colleges and universities typically offer a larger variety of majors, concentrations, and degree programs than smaller schools. Smaller schools often focus on liberal arts and a few other specialities.
- Large universities offer extensive resources for their students including libraries, computers, on-campus housing, athletics and extracurricular activities.
- Large universities usually provide a diverse student body with varied backgrounds, cultures and interests. While a very attractive characteristic to some students, this can be overwhelming to others.
- Smaller colleges offer a more intimate setting than larger colleges. You get to know just about everyone on campus they all get to know you too.
- Smaller colleges typically offer fewer distractions than larger colleges.
6. Cost of Tuition, Living, and More
The primary goal of most people going to college is to earn more money, not loose money. Notwithstanding, A recent study by Eduventures found that 24% of students who chose to attend an in-state public university chose to do because it was affordable.
The primary goal of most people going to college is to earn more money, not lose money. Notwithstanding, college does cost money and the price tag can vary greatly, even amount private colleges. When considering a college, make sure you’re aware of all the costs associated with attending the college, not just the cost of tuition. Other factors include:
- Textbook costs
- Housing costs
- Other Expenses
Fees may include costs for non-resident or out-of-state students, health services, extracurricular activities, sports, and computers. Many individual college courses may also have additional fees associated with labs, supplies, and equipment.
You’ll want to evaluate the cost of living on campus versus off campus. Many colleges offer “room and board” packages for students that cover the cost of both housing and food.
While all these costs may seem overwhelming, the majority of reputable colleges offer several forms of student financial aid in the form of loans, grants, and scholarships. Just make sure that the college you ultimately attend and the degree you earn will increase your earning potential and marketability upon graduation.
7. Available Majors and Study Areas
One of the most important decisions you’ll make either before or after you start college is what major you’ll pursue. A major is your primary course of study while attending college. Most bachelor degree programs require every student to fulfill a certain amount of general credit hours.
Generals include courses in English, history, math and political science and are typically finished prior to launching into major courses. Most colleges require that you select a major by your sophomore year in college. During your junior and senior years in college most of your courses will concentrate primarily on completing your major.
If you already know which career you want to pursue upon graduation, you’ll want to make sure any college you attend offers a major or degree track that supports your long-term career objectives. If you’re undecided, you’ll want to make sure you select a college that offers a large variety of majors to choose from.
8. Available Support Services
Most larger colleges and universities are their own little self-contained ecosystems, with on-campus housing, libraries, health centers, entertainment centers, cafeterias, food courts, shopping facilities, stores, computer labs, churches and counselors readily accessible to students.
Some colleges provide minimal health services while other provide health centers and clinics with doctors on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some colleges provide their students with free medical services, while others make health insurance policies available to any full-time student.
Academic counselors are also available for students who are seeking a career or academic guidance. Some colleges also offer free psychology counselors in the event that you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or just need a professional to talk with.
9. Campus Life and Extracurriculars
When it comes to selecting a college, campus life is a very important factor for many people. A top quality education should be your number one concern when considering which college to attend, but you can’t study all the time.
Having a social life, participating in extracurricular activities, making new friends, and having fun are all part of the college experience. Take some time before applying to find out about a school’s student organizations, special interest clubs, as well as other campus activities.
College is the perfect place to develop and showcase your leadership skills. Participating in leadership roles is not only a great experience for your future but it looks really good on a resume when you graduate and are out looking for a job.
You should look into leadership training and take advantage of every opportunity to be an officer or leader in the organizations that interest you. Leadership roles and positions are available in residence halls, activities planning councils, student government, honor societies, and other special interest organizations.
For some, athletics is an essential element of a fulfilling life. Campus life at major colleges and universities means football games, basketball games, track and field events, intramurals, and dozens of other sports activities. If athletics is an important part of your life, check out what’s available at the colleges you’re interested in.
10. Safety and Campus Security
These days it really is better to be safe than sorry, especially when evaluating different college campuses. While many college campuses appear safe, appearances can be deceiving. Over the years, crime has increased everywhere, even on college campuses.
Every college is required by law to publish a crime statistics report each year. This report includes burglaries, thefts, robberies, rapes, liquor violations, murders, weapons possessions on campus and drug abuse violations. Before attending any college, review their crime statistics and find out what safeguards they’ve put in place to ensure the safety of their students.
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