Choosing a College: What's Important to You?

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  • 0:07 Your Academic Options
  • 0:37 Make a List
  • 5:01 Prioritize Your List
  • 5:33 Decide What You Need
  • 6:01 Example
  • 8:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christie Rowe
List criteria for evaluating the academic options at a college, including: number of majors offered, academic support services provided, class size, faculty background, research opportunities, and general course offerings.

Understanding Your Academic Options

So, you know you want to go to college, but you don't know quite where to start. Should you visit some schools? Or go to a college fair? Do some research online? Well, you'll probably want to do those things eventually. But the best place to start is by thinking through what you want in a school and making a list. That way, when you start to research colleges, you'll know exactly what you're looking for. Here are three steps you can follow to determine your college criteria.

Step 1: Make a List of What You Want

Think about what's important to you in a college and start making a list. Here are a few examples of the kinds of things you'll want to think about:

  • 2-year vs. 4-year school

Would you be okay with starting at a 2-year community college, or do you really want to jump straight to a 4-year university? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Two-year colleges are a great way to save money on your education, particularly if you're not sure what major you want. You can complete your general education requirements at a community college and then transfer to a 4-year school to focus on courses in your major.

On the other hand, 4-year colleges have a unique atmosphere and school spirit. Attending a 4-year school from start to finish offers a valuable life experience, as well as opportunities that may not be available at a 2-year school. Some students feel they would be missing out if they didn't go to a 4-year school.

  • Cost

Cost is an important consideration when choosing a college. I've seen many students make the mistake of not taking cost into consideration from the beginning of their college planning. They can end up disappointed when they discover that the school they had their heart set on is out of their reach.

Consider your expected salary when you graduate and your ability to earn money while you're in school. How much can you reasonably afford? How much student debt seems reasonable, given how much money you expect to make after graduation? Make sure to do your research and get answers to these questions. Although college can be a lot of fun, ultimately it's a path to earning a better living.

  • Academics

Different schools offer different degree programs. Some specialize in a particular area, such as technology or liberal arts. Some schools are considered more prestigious than others. What is your intended major? Do you plan to minor in anything? What other options have you considered that you'd like to keep open? How prestigious of a school do you think you need to attend? I usually advise students to be open to finding the best school for them, which often isn't an expensive, Ivy League school.

  • Student Life

College isn't just about learning. For most, it's a fun and exciting time. Although other factors, like cost and academics, generally come first, I also advise students to look for a good social fit. Do you think you'd be happier at a big school with lots of resources, programs and opportunities? Or would you feel like you're lost in the crowd and prefer the close personal attention of a small school?

Do you see yourself living at home? In dorms? In off-campus housing? What social activities are you passionate about? For example, maybe you love sports and can't see yourself at a school without a strong athletics program. Or maybe you play an instrument, and you wouldn't be happy at a school without a band or orchestra you can join.

  • Location

Some students continue to live with their families through part or all of college. This can be a great way to save money and maintain family ties. Other students go away to college but stay within a few hours' drive from home. Still others move across the country. What about you? Would you be okay with only seeing your family a few times a year? Or would you be happier a little closer to home?

Maybe you're looking forward to moving far away and starting a new adventure. Another factor to consider here is that public schools usually offer lower tuition for in-state students, so you may be able to save money by remaining in your own state.

As you make your list, think both short-term and long-term. You want to have a great time while you're in college, but you also want to get a high return on your investment. That means that, down the road, you'll get more out of going to college than you put into it. Some students only think about what a great time they're going to have over the next four years. Others focus so much on practical considerations that they close themselves off to lots of possibilities. I encourage students to consider both their head and their heart and to remain open and flexible.

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