As of 2014, the United States has 4,725 degree-granting institutions. To make the best choice for yourself, think diligently about what is important to you. Read on to learn some useful tips that will help you answer the question, what college should I go to?.
Things To Consider When Determining What College To Go To
Use the College Scorecard
During his presidency, Barack Obama launched a tool called College Scorecard. This comparative search engine lets you filter schools based on size, location, major, affiliation, and type. Once you click on a school, you can find data about the average loan payment after graduation, debt upon graduation, average salary post-graduation, graduation rates, average family income, and average annual tuition. It gives you the chance to analyze real data and compare up to 10 schools at once.
Use College Scorecard to help you answer the question, “what college should I go to?”. Let it guide your search as you consider the factors below.
Most students start their college search by deciding whether or not location matters. Knowing if you want to live close to home, move to another state, or study in a particular environment will help narrow your list. Keep the weather in mind as well.
Proximity to Home
If you want to live near or at home, you will need to choose a college within a reasonable distance. Use the National Center for Education Statistics’ search tool to help. Simply put in your zip code, choose within how many miles, and then select “college” on the left. You can also search by loation on the College Scorecard.
In-State vs. Out-of-State
Looking at out-of-state schools broadens your college search considerably. Finances also become even more important. On average, out-of-state students spend $8,990 more per semester than in-state students. Plus, you could miss out on state-specific scholarships or grants if you do not attend an in-state school.
Rural vs. Urban vs. Small Town
You need to decide if you want to attend school in a familiar setting or somewhere new. The majority of American colleges fall into three categories: rural, urban, and small town. Urban schools give students the chance to explore the city and enjoy more entertainment options. It is also easier for students to travel for fun, for work, or for internships thanks to public transportation. Rural and small-town schools are more contained than city schools and have more green space. You will also spend most of your time on campus unless you have a car. When visiting schools, think about which atmosphere you prefer.
The size of a university influences its faculty-to-student ratio, extracurricular opportunities, sports, social activities, and research or job opportunities. For some, size is the most important factor because it affects your day-to-day social and academic life. A student might prioritize having more one-on-one attention from faculty, smaller class sizes, hands-on learning opportunities, a strong sense of community, and less chaos on campus. Another may prefer the excitement of a busy campus, the wider variety of courses and extracurriculars, the huge libraries, the food options, and the anonymity of being one of thousands. Think about where your preference lies or if you have one.
Costs and Scholarship Opportunities
While using the College Scorecard, keep your family’s financial situation in mind. Choosing a more affordable school, even if it is not the best school for your degree, could save you thousands in the long run. Look through your financial aid package and figure out how you will pay the remaining amount. Remember, the less money you have to pay, the more worth it college will be.
If you know that you cannot afford a college’s sticker price, see if the school offers scholarships or grants. Look at the requirements to see if you qualify. You can also speak to the college’s financial aid office for more details. If a school does not offer scholarships, you may be stuck paying full price. This means more federal loans, more money out of pocket, or more private loans. Make sure you consider whether there will be ample jobs for you around campus to help pay off your student loans while still in school. Consider these top jobs for college students while studying.
Return on Investment (ROI)
When seeking an answer to the question, “what college should I go to?,” weigh a college’s ROI heavily. If you want to graduate college with minimal debt, you want a school with a high return on investment. ROI looks at the cost of a college and how much you will make with your degree. Luckily, an online tool created by Payscale helps you do this. Using data on alumni salaries, tuition, and major, the website calculates an ROI for a specific school and major.
To use the tool, first select your desired major. Then add in filters like whether you will live on campus or expect to receive financial aid. You can type in the name of a certain school or look at the ranked list. It presents an ROI based on alumni’s average yearly earnings. Since it uses the college’s alumni data, this website provides highly accurate results. It also lists the graduation rate and the amount of time 65% of students complete their degree in. Using this tool will help you narrow down a list of schools to choose from based on what you want to study.
Make sure the colleges you look at offer your major. If you are undecided, choose a school that has majors you find interesting. Transferring due to a change of major can end up costing a lot of money.
Check schools’ websites to see what majors they offer or use Petersons’ search engine to browse for schools by major. Select your desired major and it compiles a list of schools offering that major. Filter results by things like program length, program type (online vs. traditional), state, school size, and degree type. It even lets you narrow results based on your GPA, SAT scores, ACT scores, and admission difficulty.
Once you narrow down your list, look at which schools have the best programs. Compare their faculty’s qualifications, the coursework offered, their research or internship opportunities, and their alumni’s careers. Attending a school that has up-to-date coursework in your field, strong alumni ties, and a well-known program will make finding a job post-graduation a lot easier.
A college’s graduation rate considers the number of full-time students who graduate within 150% of the normal time (six years at a four-year college) or within the normal time (four years at a four-year college). The federal government only requires that colleges report the six-year statistic, but most colleges track both. Across the United States in 2012, fifty-nine percent of students graduated in six years.
If a college’s students typically graduate on time, you are more likely to graduate on time too. This means paying for just four years of school instead of six or more. It also means that you are more likely leave school with a degree.
Many factors could cause a low graduation rate. For example, schools might not provide students with enough social, academic, or disability-related support. The college’s social scene might distract students and hinder their studies. Students might not be prepared for college-level coursework. A large number of students might drop out. After looking at your school’s graduation rate, reach out to an admissions counselor for specifics.
Retention rate looks at the percentage of students who return as sophomores. On average, 61% of freshmen return to their school in the fall. The higher the school’s retention rate, the more likely you will be to stay for your next year. This means you will keep your scholarships, keep all of your credits, and stay on track for graduation. Schools with low acceptance rates have much higher retention rates on average. Most Ivy League schools boast a 97%-99% retention rate.
Many factors influence retention rate. A low percentage can indicate that a college does not meet student’s expectations. Students might have one impression of a school based on college visits and then get there and feel disappointed. Academics also play a part. Students might leave because they do not feel challenged or they do not feel supported if they need extra help. Some students may not have the money to continue. Keep in mind that many students leave college for reasons outside of the college’s control like medical situations, homesickness, family troubles, or change of major.
After looking at the retention rate for your school, contact your admission counselor for clarification. The school should be able to tell you what they are doing to improve their retention rate. If they have a plan in place, this is a good sign. If they do not, you might want to look elsewhere.
If you are a sports fan or potential college athlete, search for schools based on sports. Use the NCAA online directory to sort out schools based on division, location, and sport. This tool is also great for students hoping to join a marching band, become a cheerleader, or major in sports medicine or broadcasting.
After considering everything above, you should be closer to knowing the answer to the question, “what college should I go to?”.