Choosing a School

"Choosing a School" submitted by SchoolGrantsfor Editorial Team and last updated on Thursday 11th August 2011

Choosing which college to attend deserves your best thought. Your decision will pay dividends for the rest of your life!

Before you make your choice, you need to be clear about why you want to go to college. Make a list of some of the reasons you want to go to college and what kind of studies might interest you. What do you hope to achieve by attending college?

Talk with your parents, other students, favorite teachers, your pastor, and your guidance counselor. Get their advice about what colleges might fit your interests.

Each of the more than 3,600 colleges and universities in the United States has its unique characteristics. There are several excellent starting points for you to learn about these colleges and how they meet your interests and needs:

Review information about several colleges to discover which ones interest you and why. Here are some questions to think about as you begin to select a college:

Do you want to live at home or go away to school? Living at home has advantages: you’re close to family and friends; food and the washing machine are nearby; you don’t need to pay for the cost of room and board at college.

Going away to college has advantages as well: you have more freedom—and responsibility; you will make many new friends; you will live in a new community.

If you will be part time or commuting to campus, will you be able to schedule the classes you need, and will there be places to study between classes? If you are a part-time student, is the campus (and parking) convenient? Is it accessible from both work and home?

Which feels the best for you? Why?

Do you prefer a large university or a smaller campus? Colleges come in all sizes. Some have as few as 200 students; others may have 40,000 or more. Consider where you will feel most comfortable and do your best work.

Large colleges generally offer a wider selection of courses. Often, they do much research in addition to teaching. Classes often are larger in size. Larger colleges require a great deal of independent initiative from their students. In return, they provide access to a rich selection of cultural and academic resources.

Smaller colleges tend to offer smaller class sizes and more attention from faculty members. These colleges often seek to create a sense of community among the faculty, students, and staff. The range of courses may be narrower, but the opportunities for leadership and involvement often are greater. In addition, the student-faculty ratio also is smaller. First-year and sophomore students often have leadership opportunities in clubs, the arts, and athletics that would not be available to them in large universities until they were in their junior and senior years, if at all.

Find out what is important to you. If you will be living on campus, will you function better on a smaller campus or a larger one? Do you work best when you have substantial contact with faculty and fellow students? Will there be sufficient cultural activities to meet your needs? Are you eager to have leadership experiences?

What kind of community do you want?

Colleges not only come in different sizes, they also are located in very different places. Some are in large city centers; some in middle-sized, county-seat towns; and some are in rural areas.

Some are far from your home, and some are near. If being at home on weekends is important to you, distance becomes a factor. During holidays and other times, students leave campus for home. Can the traveling be done within your budget? Is it convenient for you to travel?

Location affects social and cultural opportunities. If you are a movie buff, love symphonies, have mountain climbing or trail hiking as hobbies, are there opportunities to pursue your special interests? You may not find a place with everything you want, but be certain some of the things that feed your spirit are available.

What is the price and what is the cost?

College costs vary widely. The major cost of attending college is tuition and fees. The next largest cost is room and board. In addition, there are costs for books, study materials, and incidentals, like pizza and laundry.

Colleges usually include a list of charges in their catalog. As you consider costs, remember to consider the costs beyond tuition, room and board. Are there activity or technology fees, or parking fees? Admission representatives can explain these costs to you.

Do not make your college choice based on the price stated in the college catalog! That is the list or sticker price for education at the college. It does not take into account financial aid available: grants, scholarships, work-study, loans, etc. Pick your college first; then let the college work with you to determine what it really will cost you to attend. Admission counselors and financial aid officers will be helpful to you. Learn about United Methodist loans and scholarships on the Loans & Scholarships site.

Know the language!

Conversation about the cost of a college education often is confused by the definition of words used. Here are some words and definitions which might be helpful to you:

Sticker Price: The stated tuition and fees the institution charges.

Your Cost: What students pay after financial aid is subtracted from the sticker price. This is the important figure for you to consider as you compare costs at different colleges.

Cost of Attendance (COA): The tuition and fees that institutions charge students as well as other expenses related to obtaining a higher education. The total cost will include housing (room and board if the student lives on campus, or an allowance for housing costs if the student lives off-campus); allowances for books, supplies, and transportation; and may include other expenses, such as rental or purchase of a personal computer.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The EFC is based on family income and assets and is used to determine eligibility for federal financial aid. The EFC formula is set by law and based on information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Financial Need: Financial need is determined by subtracting your EFC from the COA. COA - EFC = Financial Need

Financial aid comes in different forms.

Grants: Scholarships or gifts to the student that do not have to be repaid. More details . . .

Loans: Borrowed money that must be paid back with interest. Both parents and students may borrow funds, though student loans typically do not need to be repaid until after the student leaves school. More details . . .

Work-Study: The student works while going to college to help pay for educational expenses. More details . . .

What are the facilities like?

You will get a true appreciation for the facilities when you make a campus visit. The college catalog provides a glimpse of the available resources. Is there a good library on campus? Are recreational facilities available? What kind of computer resources does the campus have? Are computers available for student use? Is there e-mail? Are there adequate facilities for science (or music, or drama, or whatever your study interests are)?

What are the housing arrangements?

Luxury accommodations are not important, but comfort is essential to doing your work well. How many residents are there in each room? Are the rooms air-conditioned? Are there phones and computer hookups? Where are the bathrooms? Are you required to live in a residence hall? Can first-year students have cars?

What academic and support programs are available?

Are there sufficient courses available to support a quality major? Have others who majored in your area found success—either in graduate study or employment? Check with teachers in your high school to learn the kind of academic reputation the colleges you are considering have in the areas you wish to study.

Many students delay their choice of major; others change their minds. Is there more than one area of study that interests you? Will you be able to take courses to explore your interests? It is easier to change majors than to change colleges.

What is the average size of the classes? How often do students get progress reports on their class work?

Several annual college guides report on colleges and provide a rating of their academic programs. Some major news magazines also publish annual summaries.

Look in the college catalog for the number of professors who have Ph.D. degrees or other terminal degrees in their area of expertise. Did the professors receive their degrees from a variety of universities? Look for a good balance of new and experienced teachers.

Does the college have a learning center or a tutoring program for students needing special attention?

Does the college have a career planning and placement office to help students choose careers and find jobs? Learn the college’s record in finding jobs for its graduates. How many applied for graduate or professional school and were accepted?

Is there a religious life program on campus?

Is there a college chaplain or a campus minister at the institution? What is the religious life program like? Will it meet your needs for involvement and spiritual growth? Are there opportunities for service to those less fortunate or to benefit society at large?

Is the institution accredited?

Accredited colleges are those approved by a regional agency, having met standards agreed upon by other similar colleges. Sometimes grants and loans for attending colleges depend, in part, on whether the college is accredited. Accreditation is important if you wish to transfer to another college or go on to graduate school. The accreditation of colleges is shown in their catalog. If you find no statement, be sure to ask.

What are the admission requirements?

The college catalog will list the requirements for admission. You may find certain high school classes are needed before you can enter particular courses of study. In some cases, the college will accept you without those classes and ask you to make up the deficiency during your first year on campus.

Most colleges require either the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT). A high school counselor can let you know when and where the tests can be taken.

As a junior, you can take the Pre-Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT). That will be good training for taking the SAT or the ACT.

Narrow your search.

Visit the campus!

Sometimes, you can’t find the answers to your questions in a college catalog. Pictures and words do not communicate fully the nature and spirit of the college. That is why it is important to visit campuses you are most interested in attending. A campus visit will enhance your understanding about the college and give you a chance to talk face-to-face with students, administrators, and faculty.

Call in advance to schedule a visit and arrange for a campus tour. Ask if the college has special days or weekends for prospective students. If it does, try to participate in one.

Write down the questions you have before you go to make certain you don’t forget them.

When you make your campus visit:

Take a look at the facilities.

Are the campus buildings in good condition? Are the residence halls in good repair? Is the library adequate? Are recreational facilities available, and are they equipped and accessible? Is the science equipment (or music, or drama, or whatever your course of study) up-to-date? What is the state of computer technology?

Ask students questions.

Ask students how comfortable they find the residence halls. Do most of the students stay on campus or go home on weekends? Are there good places to study on campus? Is the library open sufficient hours? Are there good resources in the library?

Visit with instructors.

Ask them questions you have about basic requirements and academic majors. Ask them where their graduates go to graduate school and what careers those graduates are pursuing.

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