Develop a list of criteria you want to use to evaluate and weed out colleges:
Size of College
Smaller colleges boast a more intimate classroom experience, but larger schools often have a wider variety of classes and activities. Where would you thrive? If you want your professors to know your name and to be able to offer you one-on-one assistance, a smaller school might be a better choice. The campus atmosphere is also usually more like a close-knit community.
A larger school usually means larger classes, sometimes with hundreds of students. However, this is usually the case in introductory courses. More specialized classes often have smaller enrollments. Larger universities can also offer many more programs than smaller schools. This may be a plus for those who are undecided. On the other hand, smaller schools are more likely to work with students to design majors around their interests, as long as they are within the school’s curriculum.
Consider the type of classroom environment to which you are accustomed. What are the perks and drawbacks of that situation? A great way to get a feel for the differences between a small classroom and a larger lecture hall is to visit some campuses. Checking out a class can usually be arranged during a trip to the school.
There are urban, suburban, and rural colleges — something for everyone. Again, as when considering a school’s size, it’s helpful to think about what you are used to, and to weigh what you find good or bad about it. If you come from a big city, for example, do you want to try something different or do you freak out at the thought of seeing cows and fields instead of skyscrapers and concrete?
Consider the distance from home. It is important to be realistic here. Many students are cavalier about wanting to leave home and go as far away as possible. Moving away from home is a big deal, so think seriously about what it’s going to be like and whether or not you want to be on the other side of the world from your family. On the other hand, this is a good chance to get out and experience new things, so don’t be afraid to challenge yourself — just be honest with yourself when you are deciding what that means for you.
Cost is, of course, also a big deal for most people. Price tags vary enormously from school to school.
“The reality is that how to finance your education is a factor for most prospective college students, and there may be a big difference in cost, with community colleges saving thousands of dollars in comparison to four-year schools,” said Deweerth. “But students should realize that many private colleges give a lot of financial aid to students who qualify, so the differences may not be as great as they assume.”
Students do not have to rule out a school just because the cost seems astronomical. If it is your dream school, you can still apply, but be sure to fill out financial aid and scholarship forms. There is a lot of money available for students, but you have to look for it. Fortunately, financial aid administrators at most schools are there to help you. That is not to say money is no object when choosing a school, but determine what your resources are and keep that in mind when choosing a school. Just remember it doesn’t have to be the sole factor in your decision.
Consider Academics & Your Plans
A school’s academics should also be high on your list of criteria. After all, getting a good education is what this is all about. You might be swayed by a school’s prestigious reputation or rankings in national magazines. These are not bad things to consider, but they are not the only things that should matter. Just because a school receives accolades doesn’t mean it’s perfect or, more importantly, perfect for you. That’s not to say that going to the top school for a particular program won’t be an asset if that is your chosen path of study. It is just another factor to consider and weigh accordingly.
If you’re serious about academics, your professors can greatly affect your college experience. I cannot overemphasize this: A student who is choosing between a prestigious college with mediocre professors in his or her field or a less competitive school with excellent professors in said field, should probably choose the second option, if all else is equal. Your instructors relate to your recommendations, professional help, and, most important, friendships and mentorships that can be invaluable after graduation.
Accredited universities have been recognized by official local, state, and national agencies as providing a high-quality education (US Department of Education). Accreditation is important to applicants who intend to attend graduate school, especially those who will need to obtain advanced degrees in medicine, law, and education, as well as applicants whose financial aid requires that they attend an accredited school. If you intend to transfer credits from one university to another, accreditation can also be a factor. Your new school will only accept your previous coursework if it recognizes your old school’s accreditation.
Types of Majors and Degrees Available
No matter how good the school, it will not be the right one for you if it does not offer your preferred area of study or desired degree level. A school’s admissions office would be able to answer any questions you may have concerning the availability of the type of degree you would like to pursue. Their website or brochure will also have a wealth of information. Be sure to read about the available programs and take note of the curriculum, credit requirements, and typical rate of completion.
The admissions criteria of most schools will typically involve a minimum GPA, prerequisite course requirements, and standardized test scores. They might also ask you to write a personal statement or interview with an admissions officer. Information about a school’s admission criteria can typically be found on the school’s website. Schools will often post the average GPA and test scores of previously admitted students, which is a good way to measure your own chances of getting accepted.
Internships and Hands-on Opportunities
For many people, the most exciting part of a college education is applying what they learn in the classroom to practical experience. Many programs will incorporate hands-on training into the curriculum through simulated lab work, a practicum or an internship. Although you can find your own internship with a little initiative, it is worthwhile to consider schools that provide you with direct placement into a position.
Job Placement Rates
Knowing the cold, hard facts about how many graduates in a particular field find a job, and how quickly, will help you evaluate a potential college. Many colleges publish data about the percentage of students receiving a job offer within six months of graduation. Some colleges will offer more assistance to graduates seeking employment than others. Finding out the job placement rate will help you make sure that your tuition dollars will be well spent and can influence your decision regarding the institution you choose to attend, as well as your area of study.
Whether it is a state-of-the-art laboratory, expansive computing center or a gym worthy of an Olympic athlete, the campus facilities can make all the difference when it comes to enhancing your educational experience. Determine what matters to you, and find out if those facilities are available.