How to Evaluate Colleges
Between all the unsolicited mail you're getting from Noldea U., college fairs, and everyone you know offerering their opinions, how do you determine which school is best for you? Here are a few guidelines to help you avoid common pitfalls and ultimately make the right decision for you.
Research Your "Must-Have" Colleges
What are the most important criteria for you? For some, location is paramount. For others, size (big or small) definitely matters. Does the school have a strong athletics program? Are students very intellectual? Are you interested in a school's drama or art department? Different students have different needs and interests. Do your homework and research colleges and universities to find out which schools are a potential fit for you.
Determine Your Budget for College Tuition
At first glance, a state school may seem to cost a fraction of the price of a private college or university. However, many students at state schools don't end up graduating in four years. Check that state school's four-year graduation rate before choosing it over a private school for financial alone reasons. Get tips on financing your college education.
Finding the Right Fit For You
The college search can be a painful process – especially when you're sifting through thousands of options. Where do you start? Get started now using StudentAdvisor.com's unique College Match and College Compare tools. StudentAdvisor's database contains over 7,000 colleges, universities, trade schools, and online degree programs in the United States. Narrow your search by the criteria that are most important to you. Compare up to four schools to find the one that's the best fit.
Talk to Alumni
Contact someone from your high school who's currently attending a particular college or university. Asking just any student at a college his or her opinion of the school can be helpful, but won't offer the same insight as someone whose background is similar to yours.
Be Smart About College Rankings
While rankings can vary widely and don't necessarily give you relevant information, you should find out a school's freshman year retention rate (it should be 93% or better). This reflects how students feel about the school - if they like it enough to stay. If you're applying for financial aid, definitely check the average percentage of demonstrated need met. This number is much more telling than finding out the dollar amount of the average aid package.
Visit Your Target Colleges
Remember, this is where you will be living for at least four years. Is the food edible? Does the school guarantee housing? How are the dorms? Are the bathrooms clean? If you don't think you'd be able to live there, you probably shouldn't try. This is why campus visits are so important.
Don't forget to ask an admissions officer, or a knowledgeable guide, about other comparable colleges. You should ask something along the lines of "What other colleges might I be interested in?" It's probably not something to bring up at an admissons interview, but on a standard campus visit, it's a good way to gauge how this college sees itself (or would like to be seen), as well as another way to expand your list of target schools.