For for all you college prospects out there, it’s time to stop and focus on which colleges you plan on applying to next fall. But, do you know what to look for when you’re comparing one school to another? To a large extent, that will depend on your own individual goals, personality and circumstances. However, there are still some universal criteria you should consider, regardless of what you ultimately hope to gain from a higher ed experience.
Start with graduation rates, freshmen retention rates, and student/faculty ratios. According to HuffPost, no matter which schools you are considering, these numbers are important. Freshmen retention rates tell you how many students return to that school for their sophomore year and the graduation rates tell you how many students complete the full program. These numbers tell you something about how satisfied students who selected this school are. Don’t let yourself fall into thinking “I’ll be the exception.” If a large number of students transfer out of a school, or go on but don’t graduate, be wary.
Student to faculty ratio is a number that requires some soul searching. There isn’t a good or bad number here, its more about what you need. If you like the teacher to know who you are but end up in a class of 500 students, you may get discouraged and your performance could suffer.
Other important considerations that require you to understand your own needs are the type of college, location, and distance from home. Different colleges have different focuses; there are all male or all female colleges, research colleges, colleges with a strong religious affiliation, and schools with a high number of adult students. It’s important that you know what you need in terms of the type of school you’ll be most comfortable in.
Location and distance from home can also make a difference. Location can help you explore new worlds or give you the comfort of being in a place more similar to your home town. If you grew up in the city, would you be happy in a rural area or vice versa. Or similarly, if you are far from home where everything feels foreign and you can’t visit until the end of the semester, will that be okay with you? If you are looking for a change of pace just make sure it will work for the long haul. What you are trying to avoid is ending up in a school that is so out of your comfort zone you end up transferring to a school that fits you better. If you do end up transferring it will add time and expense to the cost of your education.
One of the most important considerations is majors offered. If you know what your major will be make sure that major is one of the top majors at the school you attend. If you plan to go on for a graduate degree, look at what percentage of four year graduates go on to obtain a higher degree. This will give you information on how well prepared graduates from that school are to continue their education. If you don’t have a major in mind, select a school that offers majors in areas you are considering.
You can’t have a discussion about college selection without thinking about cost. Do not add or remove schools from your list without getting estimates on the cost for you to attend that school. Not all schools give out financial aid equally so know how much need a school meets and how they meet that need. Is the aid they give out mostly in the form of loans, or scholarships? Look at how much debt a typical student graduates with as you consider each college.
Typically state schools will give the best tuition rates and more financial aid to students from their own state so if you are considering a school outside of the state you live in, a private school may be a better financial choice than a state school. Private schools will typically charge the same tuition whether or not it’s your home state. This is an area where you’ll have to take your parents opinion into account. They will be expected to contribute to the cost of your education so the schools you apply to from a cost standpoint have to work for your whole family, not just you.
There are many considerations that may or may not be important to you: sports programs, a school newspaper, Greek life, meal plans, and what’s available to you off campus have a varying degree of importance to people. Spend some time thinking about what are your must haves and what would be nice but not necessary.
Finally, know that life will be full of changes and people generally adapt to the changes that occur. College is no different. At first it may feel very new or even uncomfortable, but in time as you settle in and adjust to your new life, it will begin to feel like home.