Careers & Education

Choosing the right college

By Matt Williamson
Info Guru, Catalogs.com

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College girls
Choosing a college is one of rituals of senior year
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Choosing the right college is a monumental task that daunts seniors in the their last years of high school. Often, the choice is narrowed by GPA or tuition requirements, but regardless there is always a long list of schools to consider. Before you even start looking for a school, it's important to realize that, no matter what the facts and statistics say, your choice of where to go to college is a personal one that only you can make. That said, there are some factors that can help you choose a school that's right for you.

What do you want to study?

The first obvious issue to consider in choosing the right college is what are you are going to school to learn—that is, if you know. Many new college students don't know what career fields they want to go into, and that's OK. Some students spend their first few years getting their general education requirements out of the way while finding their passions. If this profile fits you, a good choice might be a state university because most credits are transferable to other schools, and the programs are very diverse. Be sure to check in advance to ensure all your hard work won't be wasted obtaining those credits and they can be transferred to another school. Although credits usually can transfer, there are some situations where they will not.

Large or small classes?

As a current college student, I'd like to point out another extremely important factor to consider in choosing your school: class size. Class size is extremely important to a good education. I don't mean the size of your graduating class. I'm talking about the size of the individual classes you will be attending. Smaller classes tend to foster more discussions and offer more interaction with the professor, which, of course, leads to a better understanding of the subject matter. The downside is that, because smaller classes generally produce a more thorough understanding of the subject matter and therefore (potentially) a better education, schools with smaller classes tend to cost substantially more. State schools often have large classes (some general education courses such as Biology 101 can have upward of several hundred students in one class) and therefore are cheaper. However, class size typically matters more once you are into the courses you need to take for your major because it is essential that you have a thorough understanding of the field of your career choice. Make sure that is something you take into account when choosing the right college for yourself. The best advice is go for the smallest classes you can afford.

Location, location, location

Perhaps more important than the factors I just mentioned is location. You have to think long and hard about whether or not you want to stay close to family and friends or whether you want to move 3,000 miles away. Of course, that decision is up to you. In addition, there are some other things to consider in choosing a school based on location, such as the lifestyle of the city. Do you want a busy city life, or are you more interested in going to a school in a small town? These are some important factors to consider and force you to really examine what you want out of your college life. Many go to school seeking a new setting and new experiences; if that is you, moving away to a school with a completely different lifestyle from the one you grew up with might be a good idea. If you fear change more than death itself, then it would probably be a good idea to pick something you're a little more familiar with.

Money matters

Finally, the factor that is the biggest for most people is the financial consideration of going to school. You need to carefully examine what you can afford and how much debt you want to be saddled with after you graduate (almost everyone has to take out a student loan at one point or another). In addition, it is always a good idea to examine a school's financial aid and scholarship options. Many are surprised to discover that they are eligible for scholarships and financial aid.

For example, where I live in Salt Lake City, there are two main colleges within the city, Westminster College and the University of Utah. The U (as it is known locally) costs around $3,000 to $4,000 per semester while Westminster (because it is private) costs roughly $14,000 per semester. In short, the costs couldn't be more different. Looking at the tuition costs, the U is the obvious winner in terms of affordability, but if we take into consideration that 98% of Westminster College students receive financial aid, then that might change things. Don't immediately strike a school off your list without exploring all the financial resources it may offer you. You might be surprised and end up attending a school that you thought would be out of your price range.

As I stated in the beginning, these are just a few of the biggest factors in choosing a school, but in the end, the choice is a personal one with any number of factors that matter only to you. Be sure to (to paraphrase a certain adventure film) choose wisely because where you go to college can ultimately affect the outcome of the rest of your life. However, if you take into account the factors listed here, the decision should become slightly easier.

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