Select The Right College

There are thousands of colleges out there, but not all of them are a great fit for each student. In order to increase the success rate of being happy at the school and also graduating, it is important to match the right school with the right student. There isnít a one size fits all college to think about. Donít get caught up in deciding to go somewhere based on other people going there either. You may think it is great to go to college with a friend from high school and it can be. However, it can also hold you back from your true potential if you have different interests and different personalities. Here are some important things to take into consideration in order to make sure the college you enroll at is going to be a good match for you. This will reduce the risk of you being unhappy or dropping out. It will also reduce the chances of you deciding to change schools along the way.

Area of Study - Does the college offer your area of study? If you have a specific area you are interested in then they need to offer it. Depending on what you are interested in, the school may offer several choices and you can narrow down your emphasis in the last year of classes. Some programs are offered at most colleges. For example, if you plan to become a nurse you wonít have any problem finding a program that offers it. However, if your goal is to get a degree in financing you will find not as many schools offer it. Most do offer business degrees and classes in finance, but not the specific degree. If your degree program area is narrow, you definitely want to make sure you get into a college that offers that program. It doesnít make sense to go to school and not get the degree you really truly want. This can hinder your ability to get the job you really want later on. It can also result in the need to go to college again and spend more money to get the degree you wished you had gotten in the first place.

Degree Options Offered - Does the college offer the degree option you are looking for? Some colleges only offer certificates or associates degree programs. They arenít bad programs but if you plan to get your bachelorís or masterís degree then you need to think about your long term plan. If you start out at a community college, make sure your two year degree there transfers well in terms of the credits. Otherwise, you may have to repeat classes or take additional classes. It can be frustrating due to the cost and the time involved in doing so.

Transfer of Credits - Do you have credits that you wish to apply to your degree program? Too many students assume all of the classes they took will transfer. Then they are disappointed to discover very few of them do. It all depends on the college and what they accept. It is best to sit down with a counselor or advisor for that college. You can take along a transcript of the college courses you have completed or that you are currently enrolled in. They can tell you what will transfer and what you still need to take to earn your degree. For students who have taken concurrent classes while in high school or who have taken college classes elsewhere, this is important. If the school will accept many of them, it can be a very good fit. This means you have to take fewer classes from that college before you earn your degree.

Graduation Rate - It is important to look at the graduation rate for a given college. If it is low, you need to ask yourself why. It could be the program is far too difficult or they donít put enough effort into really helping students to succeed. A low graduation rate should be considered a red flag. If they have a high graduation rate, that is good news. However, you have to be careful. You need to make sure the program isnít too easy. You may get through it but will you have the skills and abilities you need to succeed in the workforce for such jobs? Always look into the college curriculum to determine if it is accredited and if it offers the core information you need. Evaluate their electives too because you donít want to end up with classes you donít really need just to fulfill your necessary credits for graduation.

Cost of Attending - The cost of attending one college can be significantly more than another. Sometimes, the cost is justified due to the differences in the programs they offer. A quality education is well worth the financial investment. However, this doesnít mean a lower priced college doesnít have exceptional classes or programs to offer. Do your homework to make sure the school is a good match for you on all levels. Donít enroll at a high dollar school with the mindset that you must in order to really get the education you want. By the same token, donít enroll in the lowest price college if they canít meet your needs in the classroom. Each college has a per credit hour price. They also have various fees that can be added to your account. You will need to pay for textbooks and even online e-materials for some classes. Depending on the location of the college you may have to budget for housing and a meal plan.

Scholarships/Financial Aid - Too often, students donít apply at the college they really want. They assume they canít afford it. In fact, a lack of money is what often prevents people from going to college. However, there is more money out there to help you than you may have realized. Start out by completing FAFSA. This is an application that can determine if you qualify for Federal financial aid called a Pell grant. It can also tell you if you qualify for student loans. You will need to enter your financial information and other household information. You also need to enter the names and codes for the colleges you are considering. They will send your SAR (Student Aid Report) to each college listed. You also need to get busy looking high and low for various scholarships you may qualify for. Some of them are academic based and others are sports oriented. There are also scholarships which are need based and those that are interest specific. It doesnít hurt to look around and see what you may qualify for. Every bit of money you can get through grants and scholarships to pay for college is less out of pocket. It also reduces or eliminates the need take out student loans to pay for your education.

Support Services - Does the college you are considering offer outstanding support services? This is very important for overall success. They can help you to navigate through the learning process. College can be very different from high school so you need help to adjust in different areas. A great college has programs in place that assist students so they arenít struggling. For example, they may offer tutoring and counseling. They may offer testing assistance for those that suffer from test anxiety. Before you enroll at any college, it is important to find out what types of support services they offer. Donít just get a list of them; find out the details of what each offers. You also want to find out how you qualify. Some colleges charge for supportive services and others include them in the tuition.

Housing - Depending on the location of the college, you may need to think about housing. If you have family or friends in the area it may be possible for you to stay with them. There is also the option of renting a house or an apartment off campus. However, students tend to do better in school when they live on campus. This is a well-known statistical factor, and it has influenced some colleges to require all freshmen to stay on campus in the dorms unless they live within 45 miles of the school and can stay with their parents. You will need to check the school requirements. If you will be staying in such housing, you need to make sure you evaluate what is offered. Most colleges have several levels of housing and the pricing as well as the facilities reflect this. Get your housing request in early so you have the best choice of staying where you would like to.

Location - With that all in mind, the location of the college can influence what is a good match for the student. If you need to be close to your family for any reason, it doesnít make sense to attend college hours away. The cost of going back and forth as well as the time involved is going to add up quickly. Perhaps you would like to go to a college in a particular city or state. You may have interests in those areas. If the college is out of state, it could significantly increase your tuition unless you receive an out of state waiver. Look into this early to see if you qualify.

Class Size - Some students go from a very small school to a university where there are more people in a single class than they had in their entire high school. This can be very intimidating. Studies show smaller class size provides more one on one interaction with the students. Find out what the average class size is for the area of study you plan to enroll in. Some students do very well in large classes but others donít. Take your own learning style and preferences into consideration.

Qualifications of Instructors - Nothing is worse than being in classes with instructors you canít really learn from. Find out what their qualifications will be. Find out what they have taught and how long they have done so. Such information can help you to determine if the college is a good fit for you. When you enroll in a college degree program, there is a very good chance you will have the same instructors for more than one course. It may not happen in a given semester but over the course of your attendance there. If you have issues with the instructors, it isnít going to be a good fit for you.

Policies and Procedures - Access the policies and procedures for the college you plan to attend. Are you willing to abide by them for your entire stay there? Some of these policies state you canít be in the dorms of the opposite gender after a given hour or you canít smoke on campus. There are policies that state some schools have a zero tolerance for alcohol use or drug use. If you get caught you will be kicked out from the school. If you are a person that enjoys drinking and partying on the weekend then those polices arenít going to be a good fit for you. If you donít agree with any of the outlined policies and procedures, you need to think very hard about attending that particular college. The consequences could prevent you from completing your education. They could also prevent you from being eligible for certain types of financial aid.

Accessibility - How is the campus set up? Is everything you need going to be simple to access? Can you walk across campus in 15 minutes or less? Are your classes in a centralized area of the college? All of this is very important because school will be the core of your life for several years. If you have any special needs, you need to find out if the college can address them. They should have elevators, wheelchair ramps, etc. in place to be in compliance with ADA requirements. If you have a specific type of accommodation you need to give them ample time to come up with a plan of action to successfully handle it.

Security - Your safety is a #1 priority everywhere you go, and that includes college. Find out what types of security are in place. Many college campuses require swiping an ID card to gain access to facilities. This helps to keep track of who is going where. They also have video cameras in place. Ideally, you want to find out if the security also offers escorts to walk you to your dorm and other areas of the campus after dark. You also want to find out about the statistics for crimes taking place on campus. All of this is public information and you should be able to find that information easily.

School Activities - Going to class shouldnít be all you think about when selecting the right college for you. Think about school activities you would like to be involved with. They can be sports related, government related, and even religious. Some colleges have shooting sports activities and other clubs. You need to find a place where you can meet new people with similar interests. There is no better place at a college to do so than through school activities. You can join a handful of clubs and contribute back to the school and the community at the same time.

College Campus Visit - If it is possible, schedule a college campus visit to the schools you are interested in. Try to do this while school is taking place so you can see what campus life is like for other students. Call to schedule such a visit or ask them when they have such days already planned for groups of potential students to attend. You can go eat at the dining hall, see your classrooms, and check out the dorms. You will likely be escorted on the tour by another student or by an administrative staff member. This is a great time to get information, to ask questions, and to get a first-hand look at what the experience could be like for you. If you donít like what you see, mark the college off your list. If you do, it is definitely one you need to apply to if you havenít already done so.

Sit in on a Class - If possible, ask to sit in on a class in session on the campus. You can see how the instructor relates to the students. You can get a good idea of the teaching that is going on. Think about yourself and your learning style. Would you be happy in such an environment daily?

Talk to Instructors - Introduce yourself to instructors on the campus that teach the types of classes you will be interested in. This is a great way to see if you are a good fit for the style of communication that takes place at the school. If the instructors donít have time for you it can be a red flag that they arenít going to give you personalized attention if you attend college there. Of course not all instructors will be available when you visit due to their schedules but you can see if for the most part the faculty is ready to help.

Talk to Other Students - Go to the source of the information Ė other students! Donít be shy to ask students you see in the dining hall or as you walk around campus about their experience. Ask them how many years they have been at the school and which program they are in. Ask them about clubs and what they do for fun. Ask these students what they like the most about the college. Ask them what they like the least. You will find most people are very willing to talk to you. They want to share their experience with you. This is a wonderful way to get unbiased feedback in a short amount of time.