As you finish out your senior ear of high school, you’re faced with a wide range of emotions. On one hand, you are extremely excited and relieved to finish high school and move on to adult life.
But on the other hand, you are faced with a neverending list of decisions. One of the most important is selecting a college. Where you go to continue your education and get a degree will have a huge impact on the rest of your life, especially your early adult life.
It’s a huge decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. And you shouldn’t just choose one of the most obvious options for colleges, such as the college closest to you. Rather, read on below to learn about the top 10 factors to ponder when making this decision.
Program and Degree Availability
The most important factor when selecting a college is the availability of the program you’d like to participate in. Choosing academic majors is a big process in and of itself.
But before choosing a school, you need to know why you are going to school. What type of job are you hoping to get in the future? And what degree and program will help you get there?
Not all schools offer every type of degree. And if a school offers various degree tracks, they might only specialize in certain programs.
For example, if you want to become a nurse and get a well-paying job at a good hospital, you probably want to attend a program at John Hopkins University, Emory University, or Duke University. These schools are nationally and internationally renowned for their nursing programs.
Obviously, you can get a nursing degree at other schools for a much lower price tag. But for those set on working for the best facilities in the future, choosing a school based on their program specialties is important.
If you want a degree in technology, you may need to find specialized college campuses in order to get the degree you want. If you want a degree in a specific type of marketing, or art, or finance, you’ll search for colleges that offer these programs.
Otherwise, if you choose a school first, you’ll have to choose a degree based on their options, which may or may not be what you want to do with the rest of your life.
In order to get a job in the field you want, then you need to choose an accredited college. Not all colleges have national accreditation for all of their programs. So even though you might learn a lot, if it isn’t accredited, you might not get a job.
Accreditation is the process that educational facilities need to go through to validate their degree programs. It ensures that the curriculum they are using is up to the high standards of other similar colleges in the country.
Plus, you need to choose an accredited school if you are applying for grants or student loans.
And if a school or program is accredited, check what type of accreditation it offers. Some are only accredited in a particular region. That means you’d only be able to get a job in this area.
Other schools are accredited nationally, allowing you to move anywhere after graduation in search of your dream job since opportunities for careers might be limited in your current geographic area.
While some people think this isn’t important, the reputation of your school is huge. Many of the top companies in the country hire based on where you graduated.
For example, some of the top tech companies might be trying to hire as many graduates from MIT or Stanford. These schools are world-renowned and have rigorous curriculums. Therefore, the students coming through these programs will fit right into groundbreaking tech companies.
Is the degree from one of these top-tier schools actually better than a degree from a normal school? Maybe, or maybe not. But having one of these big-name schools on your degree will absolutely help you get a better job, whether you like it or not.
Quality of Instructors
When selecting a college, many students forget to consider the instructors. But good instructors will make or break your college experience. Although it’s hard to choose a school based on instructors, you can do your research.
If you know people that attended a specific school, ask about their experience with specific instructors. Also, when touring college campuses, it’s a good idea to sit in on lectures, if possible, to get a feel for the type of instructors you’ll be studying under.
Good instructors can provide you with an amazing college experience. But bad ones will make you want to drop out.
Extracurricular and Recreational Activities
When you are pursuing your degree, the best thing you can do is focus on school full-time. For best results, you should attend school full-time and finish in the standard four-year timeframe so you can get school behind you and move on.
However, that doesn’t mean that all you can do is attend class and study. College is stressful and you need room for hobbies and extracurricular activities to balance out a high workload.
If recreation is important to you, make sure you consider the opportunities afforded by each school and its location. Many schools are located in large, metropolitan areas. This means that there is plenty of urban activities, but nature and outdoor opportunities would be limited.
If you like to connect with nature and engage with the great outdoors on a regular basis, then consider a college campus surrounded by nature. Colleges on the East and West Coast, for example, provide lots of opportunities via the ocean. From surfing and swimming to fishing and rowing, many people need the outlet of the ocean to succeed in college.
And don’t just look for outlets off-campus. Good colleges also have plenty of extracurricular activities on campus. This can include a large sports program. It can include outdoor-based activities like a rowing team.
And it can include clubs around special interests and personal development opportunities, like student government, event planning, and even honors societies.
Some of these can be open to the public, while others may be invitation only, such as Sigma Theta Tau International. Research what your opportunities are available at the colleges you are considering, to ensure a fulfilling student life.
Cost of Education and Living
While the cost of your education is important, it shouldn’t be the determining factor. If the school or program you really want to be a part of, there are always ways of making it happen.
Student loans make it easy for anyone to pursue their biggest dreams. And a disciplined financial strategy after graduation can help you pay these off much faster than most people ever do.
Nonetheless, the price tag on the degree you are pursuing is a major consideration. You can categorize colleges based on the cost of the program you are considering. Then, when you are comparing the benefits of each opportunity, you can also be comparing college costs at the same time for an accurate idea of what you are getting into.
With average college costs ranging anywhere from $5,000 per year to $40,000 per year, you shouldn’t just blindly apply to college.
Aside from the actual educational expenses, the cost of living is important, too. In rural areas, housing, food, and entertainment might be much cheaper. This is important, considering you will likely be living here for four years.
Colleges in metro areas are going to experience a much higher cost of living, and increase the likelihood of needing to take on student loans or working part-time to pay for the luxury of living in a particular area.
In-State or Out-of-State
One of the first decisions that high school seniors need to make is whether or not to go to school in their home state or in a new state. Living in a new state is exciting, and provides many mental benefits.
Being in a brand new area, with many new people, can help many people focus fully on their education. Many people feel distracted when they are living close to home, and aren’t fully able to engage with college life.
However, attending an out-of-state college is usually much more expensive. Most colleges offer steep discounts for current state residents. So from a financial perspective, staying in your home state will probably make more sense, all other factors being equal.
On-Campus or Off-Campus Living
Your living situation is another big factor. There are many ways to go about housing when in college.
If attending a college close to home, staying in your parent’s house is the cheapest option. That way, you won’t have to pay rent, extra utilities, and eat out all the time.
But if you aren’t attending a college nearby, you’ll need to either choose college accommodations or find local accommodation. Living on campus is the easiest, as having a car is usually unnecessary.
You can walk to all of your classes, and not have to pay for parking and gas, or waste time commuting when you could be studying or sleeping in.
But living on campus will cost a bit more than local accommodation. The DIY approach is to rent an apartment near your college campus. Most schools have an abundance of apartment complexes and rental homes located nearby.
Plus, it’s easy to find other students attending the same school that you can live with, helping to reduce your rent.
Living off-campus might mean having to drive to each class. Or it might mean using public transportation or riding a bike.
You’ll want to research housing options when looking into colleges to ensure you are going to be in an enjoyable situation that allows you to focus on schooling.
Proximity to Work Opportunities
While most people should focus on school full-time and not try to work, it isn’t feasible for many people. If you need to work, or would prefer to have some money coming in while you study, consider local work opportunities.
Schools in rural areas aren’t going to have as many part-time work opportunities that cater to college students. Schools in metro areas will definitely have lots of work opportunities.
Areas with lots of retail will be able to better serve colleges, as they need part-time hours and flexible schedules in order to balance school and work.
You can also research colleges that have on-campus work opportunities. Some schools offer this much more than others.
But there may be many benefits to working for your school while attending it. For example, there may be some tax credits that help you save lots of money on tuition. Or there may be programs available that will cover the cost of your education if you work on campus.
While not for everyone, having the option of making some money can make all the difference for some students. For this reason, attending online courses along with your college programs is beneficial. Medical students are a great example of how attending online medical certificate programs can be done while working and studying at the same time.
Where You Are Accepted
Of course, when it comes down to it, you can only attend a college that you are accepted into. As a high school student, it’s up to you to apply for as many colleges as you want.
The more you apply, the more options you’ll have. You’re not going to get into every college that you apply for. So rather than only having one or two school options, make a big list of schools you might be interested in.
There are online college application tools that allow you to fill out your information one time and send it to many schools all at once. This makes your job of applying to colleges way easier than it ever was in the past.
Remember, when you are applying for colleges, you aren’t choosing a college. Once you start hearing back from colleges, you’ll know which schools you can attend. It’s at this point that you actually get to choose the school for you.
Selecting a College Is Hard
There’s no way around it, selecting a college is a difficult process. It’s a huge decision with lifetime implications. And it’s tough for a 17 or 18-year-old kid to make this decision.
It pays to get advice from parents, teachers, and current college students to get a better idea of what to do. While it takes a lot of work to choose a good school, you’ll enjoy the benefits for the rest of your life if you do it right.
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