Once you’ve made the decision to go to college, the next thing you’ll need to decide is where to go. You’ll want to find a school that offers a great program with a helpful faculty, fun activities, a practical location and enough financial aid to make it all actually happen. Here we’ve outlined some of the main factors students should consider when choosing a college or university:
Location, location, location. Location can be one of the greatest determining factors when it comes to choosing a school. If you have a job or a family, packing up and moving to attend class might not make the most sense for you. Students are often limited by the school choices located within a reasonable commuting distance, so when your location is fairly fixed, online education can be a great alternative. When you go to school online, you can attend class virtually anywhere you can find an Internet connection—your bedroom, the local coffee shop or even on your lunch break at work.
If moving to a new location for school is possible for you, there are a number of decisions you’ll have to make, such as whether you want to attend school in a city or in a more rural setting. You’ll also probably want to live somewhere in which your chosen field has prominence—for example, if you’re majoring in finance, you might consider going to school in New York City where you can work on Wall Street during the summers. If you’re interested in film, Southern California might be the place for you. You don’t want your degree to become obsolete only because there isn’t a market for your profession where you live.
Fun and games. One of the perks of college life is the amazing number of activities students can get involved with, and for some, it’s an integral part of the college experience. A devoted soccer player probably wouldn’t be happy somewhere she couldn’t be on the field. A budding journalist will want a school with a great newspaper. If you have your heart set on pledging a fraternity your freshman year, weed out schools without a Greek system to help narrow your selection pool. Knowing the activities you want to participate in helps you get one step closer to making your final decision.
What others think. It might not always be fair, but there is a good reason schools are ranked, most famously by US News and World Report, and that’s because people want to know what schools are considered to be the best. While rankings are in no way entirely objective, they can influence a prospective student’s decision. If you’ve narrowed your list down to a school ranked in the top 50 and a school that didn’t make the cut, that ranking could definitely have some influence.
Published rankings certainly help shape a school’s academic reputation, but schools become known for other things, too. There are party schools, schools known for sports, and schools with strong individual programs, like engineering or music. The best way to find out the truth about a school is to visit with current students, especially those who share your interests. If you’re a serious student, talk to people involved in academic clubs like the debate team or honors society. If you’re a social butterfly, get in touch with members of Greek organizations. The best way to judge if a school is a good fit for you is to experience campus life for yourself.
Money matters. When you’re looking at a school’s tuition cost, it’s important to think of it in terms of tuition minus financial aid. Federal financial aid, including Stafford loans, Plus loans and Pell grants, is available to students based on their financial need and not where they end up going to school. But institutional financial aid, the aid offered by individual colleges and universities, isn’t the same at every school. Private schools, while generally more expensive than a public school, also tend to be far more generous with scholarships and grants—these are the best sources of aid since they are essentially free money and don’t have to be repaid. So, if your tuition is $15,000 and you’re awarded $10,000 in grants, you only have to fork over $5,000, and that’s the number you should be looking at if your choice comes down to money.
The best way to determine which school is right for you is to make a list of everything you’re looking for and, as you research different colleges and universities, scratch schools off that list if they don’t offer what’s most important to you.