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Decisions, Decisions: How to Choose a College

College and University Blog - Resources, help, and insight for your college experience

Some teens are dead set on attending an Ivy League college. Others don’t care where they to school go as long as it’s far from home. You’re also not alone if you’re pretty much clueless about how to choose the right college!

If you’re in high school and will be applying to colleges within the next year or two, you might be wondering how to pick a college that’s right for you.

While prestige, location, and several other factors will play a role when the time arrives, here are 10 important things to take into consideration:

1. Accreditation.

When you begin researching a potential colleges, make sure they are accredited. An accredited college or university meets standards that have been set by an independent education agency; accreditation is a type of quality control, so to speak. These standards help ensure that the education or training offered by the school meets acceptable levels of quality.

The two main types of accreditation are institutional, which generally applies to the entire school, and specialized or programmatic, which generally applies to programs, departments, or colleges within a university. Institutional accreditation is usually regional or national. Regional accreditation agencies concentrate on different sections of the country while national accreditation agencies are not based on geography.

Accreditation is important because schools and colleges that are not accredited are not able to receive federal financial aid. College credits earned at a nationally accredited school may not transfer to a regionally accredited school and vice versa. Learn more about accreditation here.

2. Admission / acceptance rate.

Some colleges and universities accept more students than others. Admissions are very competitive at prestigious schools like Harvard and Yale, but most community colleges have open admissions policies that allow anyone with a high school diploma or its equivalent to enroll in classes.

Research a college’s admission rates to see what percentage of applicants is generally accepted to attend. If you only apply to colleges with very low admittance rates, there’s a chance you won’t be accepted to attend any school.

3. Academics.

While it’s true that many high school students are more excited about the social aspect of college than studying, academics are pretty important. Does a college offer the programs that you’re interested in studying?

4. Student retention rates.

Student retention rates and graduation rates are another important statistic to consider. If sixty percent of freshmen do not return for their sophomore year, there’s a reason. How many students that enroll as freshmen actually graduate within four to six years? Students are customers; they leave when they are unhappy or can no longer afford to pay rising tuition costs.

5. Size.

How big is the college? State university campuses are often so large that students must catch a bus to get from Point A to Point B. Small private colleges are often small enough that students can get everywhere by foot. Some people prefer the anonymity of larger colleges while others want the smaller, more intimate campus.

6. Student to faculty ratio.

While you are researching college statistics, find out the student to faculty ratio. Classes with hundreds of people are common at large research universities but classes at a liberal arts college may have just a handful of people.

7. Cost.

The personal attention that students receive at smaller schools does not come without a price! Tuition is usually considerably higher at private universities than it is at community colleges and state schools. Use a net price calculator, now required by law on all college and university websites, to estimate the actual cost of attendance you would be paying each year. Published “sticker price” does not take financial aid into consideration and many students are eligible for grants and scholarships.

8. Average student loan debt.

Speaking of financial aid, find out the average student loan debt of a college’s graduates. Is going $100,000 into debt to attend your dream school really worth it?

9. Job placement.

The news is full of stories about recent college graduates who can’t find jobs, but those stories often fail to mention the students’ majors and where they went to school. Many things play a role when job hunting, but some colleges report impressive job placement rates following graduation while the job outlook at other schools is not so bright.

10. Average graduate salaries.

Schools with the highest paid graduates are generally engineering schools or very prestigious colleges with name recognition, but new grads from some schools have much higher starting salaries than grads from other colleges.

When deciding how to pick a college, you will have to weigh a lot of options. It’s a good idea to visit several schools in person and explore things on your own as well as with an admissions representative. Always remember, staff members are paid to tell you how great the place is! In addition to taking a standard tour, find out if you can sit in on a few classes and spend the night in a dorm (if you would be living on campus). There’s a good chance that everyone will be on their best behavior simply because you’re a potential new student, but you’ll gain a bit of inside knowledge of how things work.

Read More:

9 Worst Reasons to Pick a College

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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