Congratulations! You want to go to college, but which one? There are easy choices, your parents’ Alma Mater, the one down the street, but how do you know which college is best for you? Here are a few factors to consider and ask your potential college about.
1. Degree choice– This one should be the most obvious. What do you want to go to school for, and eliminate colleges with out your choice of major. Consider what you will do for a living with your degree, this may change your mind on programs. Ask people who hold jobs similar to the one you want what degree they have and where they earned it for further insights.
2. Locations- Where is the campus located? Is it near you, can you get to it all year round? Do they have multiple campuses you may have to attend to complete your degree? Snow or adverse weather conditions can become a problem in certain geographies and a college that is not closely located to you can add a level of risk when foul weather or traffic becomes a problem.
3. Modalities/time offered- How are you attending class, in person, online,etc.- this is a modality. Online degrees are becoming very popular with students over the last decade or so, and more employers are embracing online education. Online courses can be intimidating, so maybe your potential colleges offers blended courses, or a mix of modalities, for you to try and find how you learn best. Ensure online degree means never having to go to campus, some programs require in person testing or residencies you have to attend. Also if you prefer face to face classes, when are the classes offered, daytime, night time, weekends, etc. this is especially important for working learners and parents. Get all the details ahead of enrolling.
4. Price- Laws have recently forced colleges to be more transparent about their prices for tuition. This is a loaded question because all colleges will list their prices differently. Ensure you are comparing the same items price per credit hour is a good common component. Books are another one, but they will vary from course to course. Last area is “other fees” that may be included, technology fees, housing, taxes, registration, application, the list is quite long. Figure out what each college charges and then look at what you can afford. Some colleges have students take one class at a a time which is less money more frequently, or a traditional college where you may owe for 4 classes at the same time but only twice a year. Do not forget to ask about tuition assistance through your employment, scholarships, grants, and finally student loans to ensure you have the full financial picture.
5. Accreditation- This is something most students do not ask about, or they only know accreditation is a thing, but nothing further. There are multiple types of accreditation in the United States, the 2 most common are regional and national accreditation. Accreditation means that your selected college holds the standards of other colleges and meets or exceeds what is required for a degree in that area. Regionally accredited colleges are primarily academically oriented. Nationally accredited colleges are predominately vocationally focused. Some employers will not pay for one or the other, and may not recognize your degree if your college does not have the appropriate accreditation. Certain education disciplines also have programmatic accreditation such as Business, teaching, nursing, and engineering among others you should consider reviewing. You can find more information at http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/
6. Demographics of Students/Faculty- Who are you? Are you looking for a traditional college with 18-25 year-olds living in dorms? Do want a college that caters to working adults and knows the added stress that can add? Do you want large 100+ student classes with internationally renowned professors and teaching assistants? Do you want smaller classes with people fro the field they are teaching? Or something in the middle? Find out the kind of school you want to belong to and find a match, this could include a visit to the college or just a website visit could show you what you want to know in terms of the feel of the college culture you can expect.
7. Graduation rates- This rate is very deceiving to consider, but is easy to find in lists from agencies and certain states so I want to address it. Graduation rates look only at new freshman cohorts and do not consider transfer students or students that change programs. Some colleges have lower rates because their programs are poor ans students leave, others have low rates because their programs are so competitive students drop out, but the degree has high value and rigor attached to it. Be aware of these rates, but it should not be a primary concern for you.
8. Technical or community colleges- Do not overlook these wonderful gems in most states. These colleges have lower entry points for those worried about entrance exams like SAT/ACT. They are remarkably less expensive than their 4 year counterparts. Most of these colleges have partnerships with 4 year colleges that allow you to attend the first 2 years there and transfer to a 4 year college. These paths can be convoluted and complex, ensure you understand what is involved and both colleges agree on the process before enrolling.
9. Other factors- There are events and people in your life you need to consider when returning to college that cannot be covered here. Think about what else really matters to you in a perspective college program and create a question around it, then ask all colleges. Maybe you have ADA needs that need to be factored in, maybe you need to have your car so parking is a concern, any number of items can be an issue if you do not address them proactively.
Some colleges have dedicated sales teams to ensure your enrollment in their college. If you do not have an objective way to compare colleges you could end up attending the first college with a good sales person. After all, you know you want to go to college so the sale will not be that hard for them to close. Remain objective and talk the decision over with a trusted friend or family member before enrolling. College is too expensive to not finish if you start it, so choose well. I hope this helps.