The Education Blog: by

Insights on education news and trends worldwide

Upasana Gupta -

Selecting the right college

Do you know where to begin?

Selecting the right college can be a daunting experience for many students. Most do not know where to begin. Not only are students faced with increased choices of public vs. private educational institutions, but today need to decide what college experience they are looking for by selecting traditional classroom vs. virtual or online study.

Experts recommend putting together a college list based on desired criteria's as one of the most important steps in college planning. The director of admissions at Monmouth college, Phil Betz suggest students to write the top five characteristics of a school they wish to pursue.

( Also, read: 7 College Admission Do's and Don'ts)

My Top 5 College Charcteristics Include:

1. College Major: selecting a school based on college majors is crucial to determine which college is right for a student. Recently, I wrote a blog about how college majors are directly tied to an individual's personal return- on- investment. I strongly believe that the type of job, career and the money one makes after college is based on the major one takes. Not every college offers the type of degree which a student maybe looking for. So it is important that students invest time in researching their areas of interest and colleges which rank high in those topics. Selecting a major is more than choosing few subjects a student wishes to pursue in college. It is about defining who and what they want to be in the future.

2. Financial Aid: it doesn't matter how great a college is if a student cannot pay for it. In a recent national survey, American families reported making their college decisions based on the cost they can afford to pay. Furthermore, families increasingly rejected schools based on cost earlier in the application process and moved their kids to lower-cost schools. Cost of attending college has increasingly become a critical factor in deciding which educational institution to pursue.

However, students should learn to be patient and estimate the cost of college only after they recieve their financial aid award package. Students should look into both public and private colleges and compare the grant aid available. Sometimes, private institutions with healthy endowments are able to offer significant grant aid than the majority of public universities. Also, it is important for students to weigh the value of financial aid awards recieved. For example, they need to decide between a $1000 scholarship vs. taking a $2,000 loan. Students need to consider these options carefully because while loans may help them pay their tuition bill, it can make it harder for them to eventually repay the loan amount with interest.

As students, shop around for colleges, I suggest investing time in researching details such as:

What percentage of students receive grant aid;
What the average amount of grant aid is; and
The average ratio of grant aid vs. loans available in the college's financial aid package.

3. College Location: prospective students should realize that they will probably be living in or around a college for the next two to four years, so choosing a college based on its location is significant.

Depending on the choosen major, students should look into job prospects within the city or state the college is located to ensure job options availability during and after graduation. Also, individuals should select the college, whether close to home or far from it, which has the environment and campus-life they can handle. For example, if a student prefers the surburbs, then a city school is not a good idea. Again, college location directly impacts a student's cost and day-to-day living expenses so careful selection and consideration is required.

4. Type of College: for students considering going to college, it is a good idea to rank factors like job opportunities, cost, specialization and flexibility before choosing the type of college to obtain a degree.

Public vs. Private: a major difference in terms of attending a private or public college/ university usually comes down to money. Private colleges are expensive when we compare their tuition rates to that of public institutions. However, student's should keep in mind that private colleges have more money from endowment to give away in scholarship money, making them competitive with the state school rates. As long as students have done well academically in high school they have both public and private college options open for them.

Online vs. On-Campus: based on life-style and personality choices, students can either choose to study online or take-up a residential on-campus program. Distance learning is very popular among adults who are working part or full time and prefer flexibility in their study schedule. Today, online programs are accredited and widely recognized by employers. However, in terms of cost there is not a significant difference between online and campus programs. The type of study selection really depends on the individual and what factors rank high in their desired college criteria list.

5. Student Body Size: Deciding between a large and a small college is an important factor to consider in selecting a college because the number of students within an institute directly impact the teaching style and class environment.

Small colleges (5,000 or less students) are certainly more likely to offer classes with fewer students, enabling professors to give students more individual attention. On the other hand, in large colleges (above 15,000 students) the classroom may really be an auditorium filled with hundreds of students with emphasis on weekly small study group meetings. Again, in a smaller institution, students can get to know just about everyone, and see familiar faces whether they are in the library, the cafeteria, or in class. Whereas, larger institutions offer many opportunities to become part of a smaller community of students with common interests. It may take more effort on an individual's part to make these connections initially, but once they fit into a group socializing becomes easy.

So ultimately the decision for college selection is based on how significantly the number of students affect an individual's comfort level: Does one feel more comfortable as a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond- is important.