Choosing a college is a big decision. The choice you make can have a huge impact on your school experience, your learning opportunities and your employment opportunities when you graduate. Below are 8 things this to consider to help you choose the right college.
1. Talk to Program Coordinators, But Be Skeptical
If you know which progam is of interest to you, make a point of talking with the program coordinator for that program; it's a great way to get detailed information about a specific school. Ideally, you'd set up a face to face meeting with the program coordinator, but if you can only realistically arrange for a phone conversation, that's fine too.
Be sure to avoid contacting the program coordinator during busy times during the school year, that way he or she will be more open to speaking with you, and prepare a list of several well thought out questions. Do your research first; avoid asking questions that could be answered by visiting the school's website. Questions like, "What do students in your program do after graduation?" or "What can I do now to prepare myself for success in this program?" can provide you with good information.
Do be skeptical if you speak with program coordinators before choosing a college. They are typically biased about their programs in terms of the way their graduates are viewed by employers. So, gather as much information you can from these individuals, but don't rely on them as your only source of information when choosing a college.
2. Talk to Employers in Your Chosen Field
Do some information interviews with people who work in your chosen field. Find out how they perceive different college programs. In some fields it really matters where you went to school, in others it's not as important. An informational interview is an excellent way to get good, fairly unbiased information about what employers are looking for in new staff, including the educational background they prefer.
While you will need to put aside any shyness to set up these interviews, the information you can gather from them is so valuable, it's well worth stepping outside of your comfort zone to interview a few employers in your chosen field before choosing a college.
3. Ask the School to Prove Their Brags
Try to find out about the school's graduate employment rates before choosing a college so you'll have a good indication of where students go, and how many are hired after graduation. Regulations vary from country to country, but many schools are required to provide the public with statistics about the employment rates for recent graduates. These stats may be available on the school's website. They are not always easy to find on college websites; try searching the school's site using the search terms "graduate statistics", "grad stats", "key perfomance indicators" or "kpi".
If you don't have any luck finding a school's grad stats online, contact the school and ask if they can provide you with that information (this can be a good question for the program coordinator if you're speaking with him or her). Again, regulations vary from country to country, so depending on where you are going to college, this information may or may not be available.
4. Review Graduation Rates for Your Chosen Program
Like employment rates, many schools (depending on your location) are also required to provide information about graduation rates. These statstics will show you the number of students who gradutated from a specific program compared with the number of students who started in the program.
This information will help you to assess the level of difficulty of the program. If you have any concerns about the graduation rate (i.e. if it is quite low), speak to the program coordinator to determine why that is the case. You may, for example, discover that there are one or two particularly difficult courses in the program. If that's the case, you'll be able to assess whether you think you'll be able to pass those courses and put supports in place (such as a study group, a tutor or a lighter course load the semester you take the course) before you start those courses.
5. Consider Any Specific Needs You May Have
If there are specific needs you have, determine how the school will meet those needs. If you need to attend a school that is close to home, keep location in mind when choosing a college. If you have a learning disability, determine what supports the school has in place to help you address your learning needs. If you have a physical disability, determine how the school meets needs related to accessibility and how the school will support you with arranging any necessary in class accommodations.
6. Visit Your Top Schools
Be sure to visit your top two or three options. On a campus visit, you'll gather a huge amount of information that you couldn't gather from a brochure or a website. Nothing replaces an in-person visit to the schools you are considering, and it's well worth the time required to visit the schools that are at the top of your list.
7. Investigate Costs
Consider all of the costs associated with a specific college and the program that is of interest to you. Tuition is not the only cost factor to consider. There's also the potential cost of room and board, books, required equipment, parking or other transportation costs, specific student fees etc. All of these expenses add up quickly and can quickly surpass your tuition fees. So, when you consider the financial issues around choosing a college, be sure to consider all of the costs you are likely to encounter.
8. Look at Acceptance Rates
Is the program over-subscribed every year? In that case, simply meeting the basic requirements won't be enough to be accepted to the program. On the other hand, if the program does not fill up each year, you'll likely have a good chance of getting in as long as you meet all of the basic acceptance criteria.
Consider how competitive is it to get into the school of your choice, but don't eliminate a school you like simply because it's a bit of a stretch to get into their program. Be sure to apply to some schools that will likely accept you and that you'd like to attend, but also stretch yourself a bit and apply to schools you like that are a bit more competitive.