How Do You Choose a College

Helping students select the right school is at the foundation of what we do at College & Retirement Solutions. We help families find schools that will meet their criteria for both features and price. Some schools are more popular than others, and there are many hidden gems you may not have heard of.

Consider these features when choosing a college:

Location: How far from home would you like to be?  Will you travel home by car or by public transportation?  Do you want to live in a large city, a small town or in the country; in-state or out-of-state? Do you like to be surrounded by people (large college or university) or have more privacy (smaller private college or vocational school)? In what kind of setting would you feel comfortable? Does the school have its own on or off-campus housing, or are apartments available close by? With increasing enrollments not all colleges guarantee housing for four years.  Make sure you find out where you’ll be living beyond freshman year.  Do you want to study abroad?  Consider those opportunities as well when you think about where you’ll be for those four years.

Affordability:  “Affordable” doesn’t always mean least expensive. It means getting the most for your investment at a cost that is within your means. Strive to spend no more than is necessary to reach your goal by choosing wisely. And consider ways to lower your costs, like buying used books, living at home and commuting, attending an in-state school, taking more than the minimum number of required credits or earning money through work-study.

Academics:  While you probably have a major in mind as you consider where to apply, remember that, in addition to the courses in your major you will take general education classes and electives. Are there a variety of courses outside your major that interest you?   And since your interests may change over the course of four years, find out how easily you can change majors, or add a minor, certificate or dual degree.  You want to have the maximum flexibility so that changing your focus doesn’t add time – and extra expense – to getting your degree.

Activities: If you are going to school on an athletic scholarship you already know how you’ll be spending a significant amount of your time outside of the classroom, at least during your season. However, if you like to play intramural sports, or are you a fan who just loves to watch, you’ll want to make sure that you are looking into schools that offer these opportunities. What about extracurricular activities like clubs, organizations, fraternities and sororities or special living communities? These are things that not only make your college experience more fun, they can be important leadership and learning experiences in their own right.

Size:  While it’s common to need time adjusting to finding your way around any campus, you want to think about the overall impact of being at a large school, which typically means a big state university. Does this also mean large classes, especially for freshmen? Will you be able to get individualized attention if you need it? Will you be able to speak with your professors if necessary?  Does the school have the facilities you desire, like labs, art or performance studios, access to computers, etc.?  Weighing a big vs. small school is about more than just campus size.

Time: How long will it take to complete your program? The average time to get a bachelor’s degree has risen to 4.5 years.  Are there shorter programs, special certifications or combined bachelor’s and master’s programs that are right for you?  Can you take some credits, less expensively, at a local community college during the summer and transfer them?  Consider all the options and don’t not rule out any path.

When you think about the “big picture” by considering all these and other factors that contribute to the experience of attending a certain school, you have to decide if your personality and the school’s will “fit.” If you have boiled it down to a couple of schools but your decision is still up in the air, a second visit may be what’s needed to make that final decision. What you’re looking for is a learning environment where you will be comfortable, secure, and productive while you complete your program and gain the necessary tools for a successful and fulfilling career. Good luck!