Criteria

Things To Consider When Selecting a College
 
When looking at schools, there are many factors that must be considered before making the decision and determining schools that are of interest. In the United States alone, there are over 3,000 schools spread across 50 states and represent a tremendous variety of institutions of higher education. Not only is it important for students to know what they want to study, but they also may need to know where to study keeping in mind location, school size, climate, cost, and many other factors.

Self-Evaluation

Students need to take a close look at their academic record as well as strengths, weaknesses, needs and goals as they try to select colleges to which to apply. What friends say about the “best school for you” and what parents say is “good” are not particularly good indicators of what is really “good” for a student. Research what schools offer and how that fits student needs. Keep in mind that what is “good” for one person may not be “good” for another.
 
Location
Urban? Suburban? Rural? Winter? Sunshine? Near a city? Hours to the nearest city? One of the easiest ways to start narrowing the search is for students to consider where they want to be. They aren’t only selecting a school, but a place to live. Campus settings range from places like New York University and King’s College London blending right into the the urban setting with no identifiable campus to campuses of 10,000 acres of forests and hills several hours from a city of over 100,000 people. A student’s personal happiness for three or four years of study is going to depend greatly upon the environment in which they study. If being near family and friends is important, fine, but then use that importance to pick possible locations. Keep in mind that being in a small town does not mean “nothing to do” and being in a large city does not necessarily mean “lots to do.”
 
Types of Colleges
Colleges can broadly be divided into either liberal arts (typically in the US) or comprehensive universities. Generally, a comprehensive university is large and has many different departments and degrees are generally professional training programs in areas such as law or medicine.  Liberal arts colleges, by comparison, provide students with a breath of knowledge and majors are usually of a more general nature (English, psychology, biology) and help students to become better thinkers, writers, and problem solvers.  Students that know they will be going into graduate programs often find liberal arts colleges to be good preparation. Specialized Colleges – those that offer majors in one particular area. Examples of these are generally in the fields of the arts (University of the Arts, London), business (Bentley), or engineering (Harvey Mudd).  Women’s Colleges – are those that are totally committed to the personal, social, and academic development of women. They provide extensive opportunities for leadership and independence.
 
Size
Colleges range from 500 students to 55,000 and the school size is very important as you evaluate what you want. Consider: Will the student feel comfortable in a lecture class of 700 students? Does he or she prefer taking notes rather than discussing issues? Is it important for to have a teacher know your name? If a more personalized education is the preference, then look at smaller liberal arts colleges where a student is a face as well as a name.  Pre-med advising programs can make a liberal arts college an excellent choice in terms of working with and getting to personally know professors.  Small colleges are those generally referred to as those having fewer than 3000 students while mid-size refer to those with between 3,000-10,000 students, and large are those that have over 10,000 students. Not only do you have to consider the size of the school population but you must also consider the size of the community it is in as well as the typical class size.
 
Cost
Cost of a higher education varies significantly from school to school and country to country. Students and parents must take a close look at the cost of a college education. As the annual cost of private education in the U.S. can now exceed $50,000, it is likely that a private institution will cost your family at least $200,000 over four years. Is this a cost that is affordable? Public institutions currently range from $20,000-30,000. U.S. citizens or permanent residents, are eligible for institutional-based financial aid in a combination of grant, work-study, and loan monies. Citizens of the UK/EU and Australia will pay less to study in their home country. Whereas Singapore and Japan may have special reduced fees for international students. In other words, the cost of attendance in a country really depends on that country’s needs and view of who should fund higher education. Use the country guides  on this site to begin getting a general idea of the cost of tuition. But keep in mind that this is a generalization and there may be ways to decrease the cost listed.
 
On-Campus Housing
It is important to consider the percentage of students who live on-campus.  The personal growth and learning that goes on while living on a campus is as important to a student, “international” or “resident”, as is feeling “at home” while away from home. If fewer than 50% of the students live on campus, weekend activities could be limited.  
 

Student Diversity
Schools vary greatly in terms of percentages of international students and racial diversity.  Generally speaking, an international student might feel more comfortable in a school in which there are other international students.  A college that has 90+% or more of local students and 1% foreign nationals is not going to offer the diversity of students that might be preferred.  In the US, if a school has 3% or more international population and at least 10% American students of color, you can consider that school as having a relatively diverse population.

 

Programs of Study
If a student has a specific major/course in mind, they need to make sure that the schools to which they’re considering have that program.  If undecided about a major, it might be a good idea to apply to schools in the US that have a range of majors to choose from later once accepted. If a student decides to apply to a “specialty” school (i.e., a school that specializes in just one area such as business), their interest to study that subject must be strong.  If enrolled in a school that specializes in business, for example, and the student decides they don’t like business, they will probably have to transfer to another college to study something else.  
 
The Prestige Factor – School “Brand Name”
Students and parents should be wary of selecting a college based upon its name and the perceived prestige of that name.  It must be kept in mind that at the prestigious, big name research universities, professors concentrate more on graduate students and research than they do on undergraduate students.  The designer-label college diploma may assist in getting one’s first job but after that, jobs, promotions, and raises are based upon one’s personal qualities and achievements.  
 
Pre-Professional vs. Liberal Arts
Pre-professional programs of study are ones that are designed specifically toward certain career goals.  Premed, prelaw, engineering, and business are good examples of pre-professional majors.  Majors that do not lead directly to a specific career goal fall into the Liberal Arts category.  The goal of a liberal arts education is to teach students how to think creatively and analytically, thus preparing them to pursue any career which can be valuable in an ever changing society.  There are pros and cons for both.  If a student really knows what they want in terms of a career, then a pre-professional course of study might be most comfortable.  However, if unsure, a liberal arts education is an alternative route into a professional career track. 
 
Freshman Satisfaction
One statistic provided on most college websites is the percent of freshmen who come back after their first year (Retention Rate). If this is a high number, it indicates that most freshmen were satisfied with the school and were successful.  If this statistic is low, it would be good to find out why.  However, keep in mind that not all schools are suitable for everyone and that students should focus on finding a school that is right for them.
 
Academic Atmosphere and Campus “Culture”
Each college has a different “culture” or feel. Some offer a large variety of intramural and extracurricular activities while others are more limited. Some have large international populations while at others the international percentage is small.  The degrees of stress, competition, and intensity are also all different and will impact on the overall quality of personal life at any college. A stress-filled environment does not necessarily indicate a high-quality education. The analogy of “the big fish in a small pond/small fish in a big pond” merits some consideration.  
 
Where Friends Go
Going to college where high school friends go can be great or terrible.  As a general rule, students need to select a school that is right for them and if friends end up there, great.  But a college decision (and potentially the rest of your life) shouldn’t be based on where friends are going to school.  After all, there is a good chance friends will grow apart anyway. And students will make more friends if they don’t have the old gang to fall back on.  If students do end up going to the same college as friends, they are better off not being roommates.  Living with a person is a different story than simply being a friend and this scenario often leads to damaged friendships. Besides students will meet a lot more people and establish a larger circle of friends if they live with someone they don’t already know.
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