By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer & Chief Marketing Officer, Curriki
You’ve done your research and visited colleges. You’ve submitted your college applications. Your acceptances have arrived.
Now comes the hard part: Picking which one to attend. The college you choose will affect the rest of your life – your career path, your connections, the quality of your education, the friends you make – even the place you live!
Talk about pressure. And you thought the application process was hard!
But May 1 is approaching quickly, the day when universities and colleges expect prospective students to make their choice and put down their down payment. How to decide which is the right one for you?
Here are key things to keep in mind as you compare colleges:
College costs grow every year. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2017–2018 school year was $9,970 for state residents and $25,620 for out-of-state residents attending public colleges and universities, and $34,740 for private four-year institutions. Room, board and fees added another $10-$12,000, and transportation was even more.
When evaluating cost, consider financial aid. Schools give out scholarships based on merit and need; this info comes in your acceptance letter. More than 70% of full-time students receive grant aid to help them pay for college. Student loans, work study and jobs are other options for payment. So compare aid packages, not just cost, and figure out what sort of loan you can afford to carry after you graduate, or how many hours a week you can afford to work while in school
In some industries, your college choice doesn’t matter much. But for others, such as law, medicine or business management, a prestigious school can have a big impact on your career and provide valuable connections. So in this case, it might be worth a higher price tag.
The Princeton Review is a terrific resource for comparing schools, says USA Today in its College Choice Guide. The Review ranks each school by prestige, cost, academics, demographics, and quality of life. Compare your prospective schools’ rankings — depending on your desired career, this may hold more or less weight in your decision.
When evaluating schools, find out what percentage of students graduate in four years. Adding an extra year increases your costs by 25%!
Do you thrive in a large environment, or prefer a smaller campus with more personal attention? Only you can answer that question.
Class size can affect how you learn and how much individual attention you can expect. Large universities often feature large lectures; could you thrive with that?
Make sure you understand all of the housing options. If you know you want to live on campus, make sure that will be available to you. Check out the dorms and make sure the size, location and number of roommates works for you. There are also various options such as same-sex or coed dorms, living and working communities, themed residence halls and more. What is the best fit for you?
If you have any sort of disability or mental health issue, or academic needs, research each school to find out what they support they will provide. College is challenging in the best of circumstances. Make sure the one you choose will support you when you need it most. Call or meet with the Disability Services, Academic Support or Mental Health Services offices to discuss available accommodations.
Is the school you’re considering strong in your major? Are there other options if you decide to change majors?
Follow Your Gut
In the end, it comes down to your gut. What feels right?
“First I used spreadsheets with all the things that were important to me – obvious things like costs, financial aid and how many students, but other things like inclusiveness, culture and activities. I wanted a smaller school that focused more on teaching than research. Then I had to prioritize what was really important to me, and I organized the list that way,” said Aryk Greenawalt, a Coloradan in his first year at Keele University in England.
“But a lot of it was following my gut. There’s only so far that statistics will take you – this college has so and so student satisfaction or so and so library or whatever,” said Aryk. “But at the end of the day, Keele was the one that called out to me the most.”
Grace Hewitt of Bolton, England, who also attends Keele, shared, “I wanted to be close to home, so we looked at universities near where I lived. Campus universities seemed to have more of a community feel. I applied to five, and it came down to a choice between and Warick.”
Like Aryk, it was Grace’s gut that led her to her final decision. “Keele just felt more comfortable.”
Sharon Trilk of Le Claire, IA, whose freshman son Nico is just starting his college search, said the comment they heard repeatedly when his high school hosted a panel of recent graduates was that they chose the school that “fit them best,” especially after visiting it in person.
“They chose based on the people they met on campus, talking with them and finding out what those students loved about their school and what their goals were, the atmosphere of the campus and the grounds/look and feel of the school,” said Sharon. “Intangibles that influenced them emotionally was just as important, if not more important, than stats and academic measurements.”
Mary Wiley of Newport, RI, who made her choice to attend Wellesley College 40 years ago, echoed the theme, saying, “They usually know in their gut where they would be happiest.”
Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer & Chief Marketing Officer, leads and manages all of Curriki’s content development, user experience, and academic direction. Learn more at Curriki.org.
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