The college you study has a role in shaping your career as well as life beyond the college. After all what you do is what you learn. So choosing a college is a task every student should take seriously. There are about 5,000 institutions in the US which grant 4-year undergraduate and 2-year associate degrees. So making a choice matters.
Many students choose college on the basis of their feelings and ambitions. This is totally wrong. The college you aspire to study may not be the best fit for you to study. For some students what matters is studying in the US. This can be troublesome since such students put minimum efforts in researching colleges and eventually end up in an environment they do not fit and never desired.
If you are looking for colleges, a broad spectrum of factors like location, size, cost, academic quality, campus safety, and choice of majors needs to be considered.
We have compiled a list of important factors to be considered by all the students applying to the US. These factors have been listed in the order of general to specific below:
Confirm that the college you want to study is accredited before applying to it. A college is accredited means that an officially licensed organization has examined the college and reviewed its curriculum to verify that it meets basic academic standards for higher education.
Information on accreditation can be found on the website of colleges in the ‘About’ or ‘Admissions’ sections. Most accredited colleges readily provide information regarding their accreditation. You can call or email the admissions office if you have trouble finding the information on accreditation in the college website.
A college can be nationally or regionally accredited. Specific schools, departments or programs within a college can also have their own accreditation. Accreditation ensures that you are receiving a valid degree and will be recognized by your employers in the future.
Type of College
Every type of college is not fit for every student. The type of college depends on the type of education you want. You might not be sure about what type of college you are fit for. But do not worry. You can generalize here; you are not choosing a major or career.
To decide the type of college, you may ask yourself a few questions: What are your interests and abilities? Are you better suited for liberal arts subjects or more technical fields, such as math, science and engineering? If you are currently in junior or senior year of your high school, you probably have answers to these questions.
Most colleges and universities have orientation of one or other type. A small liberal arts college will not have much to offer a student that wants to be an engineer. She will want to apply to larger research universities that have the resources for engineering, as well as other technical and scientific fields.
Type of school is a broad criteria, so you need not worry about it much. Give a little thought, you will get your decision. Description of other factors below can help you deciding the type of college that fits you.
Environment matters. Few people might choose to live in a rural setting, while some other might feel comfortable in a sub-urban or urban setting. Ask yourself these questions: Does a party campus sound like a fun part of the college experience or just a distraction? What type of weather and regional culture do you prefer?
Some students might wish to go out of state for their study while some others might prefer studying in their own state.
Geographic location can have a big impact on your overall college experience. Four years in the college can be tough if you do not feel comfortable in the environment you are studying. You can check college websites and take a virtual tour to know about the location and environment. You may schedule a visit to the college if it is feasible for you.
Crime and safety also need to be considered. Colleges often supply crime statistics of the campus on students request; many may provide with crime statistics of the surrounding as well. College is of course a safe place, but crimes can happen anywhere. You need to be conscious about your safety.
Size of the college
Thousands of accredited colleges in the US are all of varying sizes. A college’s size can tell you a lot about it. And much like type of school and geographic location, you probably have some sort of idea about the size of school you’d like to attend.
Large colleges can have abundance in resources. This can include campus facilities such as student housing, libraries, computer access, health centers, athletic facilities, culture and entertainment. Large research universities also tend to have large budgets to invest in faculty, classroom technology and research and development labs for science, engineering and other fields of study.
Perhaps most importantly, large institutions usually provide more academic options, including hundreds of different majors and concentrations. This can be especially attractive if you haven’t settled on a major or are looking to pursue an interdisciplinary major.
Small colleges have limited resources, but they can offer plenty of things that larger institutions cannot. Many colleges stay small so they can specialize in liberal arts education or even a certain discipline within liberal arts. The campus and the class sizes will be smaller, and the overall college experience is usually much more intimate. In such cases, the student-faculty ratio is very low which means you get more attention and care.
Keep in mind that a small college can still be located in a big, bustling city. And a big public university can be located in a small town (these are often the party schools). It is reasonable to judge the size of the school in the context of the surrounding environment.
Cost and Financial aid
Many of the aforementioned factors may be important to you personally, but this factor can play a great role. You may have like everything about a college, but in the end, cost may trouble you. Education requires a financial investment. Out of many colleges in the US, most require payment from the students. You might be put into debt in the name of education; be cautious.
Private schools are usually more expensive than public colleges and state universities. However, private colleges have more scholarships and endowments for students than public. And such scholarships and aids range from books, partial-tuition, and full-tuition to full-ride aids. Tuition is only about half of the overall cost of attending college. Housing, food, transportation, books and other cost-of-living expenses sum up a huge amount to your cost of attendance. If you’re looking at schools in expensive cities like New York or Los Angeles, you’re likely to be paying 2 or 3 times more in rent.
Recall the factor ‘Location’ mentioned earlier. You might need to think upon not only where you want to go, but also upon where you can afford to go. Attending college out-of-state is automatically more expensive. The tuition will be subject to non-resident fees, but you will also probably spend more on cost of living.
If money is more of an obstacle, you may want to consider living at home and studying your general requirements at a community college. It has become very common, not just for affordability. Across the board, community colleges have improved academic standards and made it easier to transfer credits to four-year universities. Many studies even show community college students going on to greater academic success than their university counterparts.
Academic quality came sixth in the list. Do not misunderstand it as a less important one for that reason. In fact we are getting more specific now. Academic quality might be a factor that drives to choose a college to include in your list or remove one that you have already listed.
In your search for colleges, you will go through colleges of ranging academic caliber. Conducting the search will help inform your ideas about what you want to study and what you want to gain from your college experience. Your list of colleges undoubtedly gets shorter as you move from one factor to another in this list. This factor may short the list substantially.
You can have an extra advantage making decisions regarding this factor if your high school ha the provision of guidance counselling. Your guidance counsellor can support you throughout the process of application. They can guide you about academic tracks of different colleges. They may also facilitate you with resources like reviews of different colleges in the US and their academic programs.
However, you will need a thorough online research on your own. Delve deeper into departments and programs of the college than just a general description on it.
Rankings are indicators, but they can be misleading. Publications like U.S. News & World Report, Times Higher Education, Niche, and QS Ranking, among others, can have their own criteria for determining rankings. They might have different opinions than you about what is important in a college. It doesn’t hurt to look at rankings, but you’re going to want to dig deeper.
If you know what field you would like to study, use that to your advantage. Get the school’s job placement statistics for various departments. What percentage of students is able to find jobs after graduation? If possible, seek out career professionals in that field and their input. You may get recommendations to great colleges you have never heard of.
Academic quality and faculty are interrelated. Academic quality depends both on incoming students and working faculty in a college. A college professor can be much more than just a teacher. In addition to instilling valuable skills that will prepare you for adult life, they are training you for a career and in some cases, acting as a mentor.
If you have an inkling of what you’d like to study, take a good look at the faculty in related departments. It can be hard to know how to judge faculty members without actually taking their class. But, you can always make a comparison. If you have campus visits scheduled, try and meet with faculty members personally. Personal talks help you make better judgements.
People of attractive degrees may not be good teachers. Many professors at larger universities are more focused on research and delegate teaching to graduate students. Smaller universities and community colleges tend to have more focus on the classroom and offer students greater access to their professors.
Also look at the student-to-teacher ratio and the average class size. Student/teacher ratios will give you an overall balance of the college, but can be skewed if professors focus on research. If possible get class size numbers for specific departments. Also keep in mind that freshman classes tend to be bigger, while classes in your major will be more intimate.
In some cases you might find a college that fits you and has the course that you would like to pursue but not as a major. You will have to choose a different major or transfer schools, which can be costly and extend your college career. So be careful about looking for the major you want to study alongside the college research.
We are getting more and more specific if you realized. We started with accreditation and type of schools and we are now focusing on majors which play an important role in designing your career. Type of school you wanted to study is your general interest, but choosing a major depends on what you want to do in life, what you want to be. Do not stress yourself to choose one. You can list possible majors for you and gradually decide on which is the best fit.
If you have already selected a major for yourself, it is easier for you to do research on colleges. This will give you the advantage of searching for schools in the context of a larger career/life plan. You can investigate academic departments more thoroughly and carefully select a school that’s a perfect fit for you.
Most students only declare a major during their sophomore year and do not have that information when choosing a college. That is okay. If you’ve been considering all the factors listed above and have a general idea of what you want to study, you shouldn’t have too many surprises. The case can be a little different if you’re applying to a very small school with a limited academic focus. In that case you probably want to have a specific major in mind when you enroll. If you end up deciding on a completely different discipline, then you may find yourself confused.
You’ll want to do plenty of research and weigh all the factors described above before devoting too much time to this topic.
Students wish to study in a good college in the US, but do not give much time for college research. College research needs plenty of time and thoughtful consideration. Without college research, selection process can be much more stressful and your eventual choice might be much more miserable.
But if you carefully weigh all of these factors, as well as some of your own, you will eventually navigate your way through the process. Take it step by step. Start general and, as you learn more about yourself and your range of options, get more and more specific. In the end, what started out as hundreds of options will be narrowed down to just a few, and you will find a great college for you.