Choosing Where To Go To College

Are you looking for a quality college experience? Check out these guidelines that can help you find the best educational fit for your family.

Choosing a college can be challenging for a number of reasons. Standards, location, and costs are just some of the criteria you will need to consider as you make the decision of where to enroll. The following suggestions can help steer you in the right direction for information.

1. Think about your ultimate reason for going to college. Do you want to learn more about life and broaden your academic horizons? Are you seeking a specific technical skill certification that will help you find work within a year or two? Or are you unsure of a vocation and simply desire to begin a four-year bachelor's program with the view of choosing a major later? Some high school graduates have a pretty clear idea of what they want to do for a living, and thus can choose the type of higher education that will prepare them for a professional career. Others, however, have a general idea that they will need college to find a permanent job, so they begin taking classes without a clear end goal in mind.

2. If you have an idea of the career you would like to pursue, narrow your college choices to schools that offer a program in your career field. For example, if you are thinking about becoming a paralegal (or legal assistant), a one-year certificate or a two-year degree may be adequate for job placement. But if you have teaching in mind as a career goal, you will need at least a four-year degree.

3. When you know the type of program you are looking for, you can browse college catalogs (print and online) for a better idea of course offerings and extracurricular activities at campuses you may be interested in. Technical schools or community colleges (which also may be branch campuses of a larger university) can serve as a great starting place to "get your feet wet" academically. If you decide to transfer to a four-year degree program at the main campus, you may be able to use most if not all of the courses taken at the regional or branch campus.

4. Compare costs. Attending college in the state where you have declared residency often is cheaper than going to college out of state. Larger or more prestigious institutions may cost many times more than the local community college. Some students begin taking courses at the local level to cut costs before switching to a larger school for the last year or two of the degree program. Most institutions offer various types of financial aid, such as grants and loans, so check with the Student Services office of the campus where you plan to enroll.

5. Assess location. Is the campus located in a safe area? Do surrounding neighborhoods have a reputation for criminal or drug-related activity? Are the buildings up to date and attractive? Can you travel home quickly during term breaks or in case of emergency? Is the campus close to areas with social activities or will you become isolated?

6. Consider size. Is your college of choice a small, medium, or large institution? Is the student body diverse? Will you fit in or stick out? Is this an urban, suburban, or rural campus?

7. Inquire about the curriculum. Is the campus accredited? Do the courses you seek to take offer credit toward a degree? Are faculty members distinguished and accomplished in their fields? Do courses offer Web-based learning? Does the campus provide student computers?

8. Visit a few campuses. Many institutions offer a visitors' day or orientation when prospective families can visit and tour campus as well as ask questions from knowledgeable guides or faculty. Some programs provide an overnight experience, and many offer meals. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn more about the prospective campuses where you are thinking about enrolling.

Investing years of your life in an institution is a major consideration. Contact campus officials to find out more about programs you are especially interested in. Take time to investigate carefully and choose wisely. When you receive that diploma, your effort will have proven worthwhile.

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