10 Things You Should Find Out Before Committing to a College
What you should consider before you submit your college application or accept an offer of enrollment.
Choosing a college is a big decision. There are many aspects of the college to consider and how they relate to your personal preferences. And, it’s easy to get caught up in certain aspects of a school -- like the really fancy dorms or the fact that your best friend goes there --and lose sight of the big picture (Is this the right place for you to learn skills for your career?).
Before you apply or contact the schools to let them know if you'll accept their offer, go through these questions to make sure you haven’t missed any key factors. You may find a college you’ve overlooked will turn out to be the best one for you. Or, that you need to rethink schools you ruled out.
Understanding the class structure of your future courses can help you choose an environment that maximizes your learning preferences.
Whether you’re choosing a community college, career college, distance learning program at an online school or a four-year university, there are 10 things you’ll want to find out before making that final decision.
1. Evaluate the Environment: Do you like the college campus?
Visiting the school campus is an important step in any college search. Tour the campus while classes are in session, sit in on a class, visit student housing facilities and eat at the college cafeteria to see if you feel comfortable and would be happy at the colleges and universities on your short list.
2. Consider the Cost: What's the cost and financial aid package?
Take into consideration all college costs, from tuition and room and board to books, travel expenses and any lab or computer costs. Make sure you understand the type of financial aid you’ve been awarded and how and when you’ll be expected to repay it.
3. Research Financial Aid Options: Are you able to receive more financial aid?
If your top school hasn’t awarded you all the financial aid you need, you might want to consider asking for additional aid and applying for more scholarships. Maximize your financial aid options now because once you start school, it will be harder to find time to change things. Plus, as colleges compete for top candidates, it is becoming more common and acceptable to ask for more aid. It's also the financial aid department's job to help you understand what's possible at the school and how to get it.
4. Check Transfer Requirements: Will some of your credits transfer for college credit?
If you're enrolling straight from high school, check to see which AP, IB or CLEP courses will transfer for college credit. If you've taken classes at a local community college, see if those will transfer as well, you may have already satisfied a class requirement.
Similarly, college transfer students should find out which of their courses will transfer to their new college. College transfer students should keep in mind that if their courses don’t transfer, it could delay their graduation date, which could in turn delay starting careers or getting graduate degrees, like an MBA.
5. Prepare for Placement Exams: Are there any entrance exams?
Many colleges and universities require entrance exams for specific majors, classes or programs. Does your college or degree require placement exams in math, writing and/or English? If so, determine how these tests are scored and what you can do to prepare for them. How you perform on these tests will determine some of the courses you take.
6. Understand the Degree Program: What are the graduation requirements?
Different schools require different numbers of class credits for graduation. Some schools may focus on required courses in your major, while others expect you to have a more well-rounded education and will require a great deal of electives outside your major. Find out how many courses are required within, and outside of, your major, and ask how flexible those requirements are.
7. Check Course Availability: How difficult is it to get into classes in your major?
Some college degree programs are more popular than others. Also, some college courses are not offered every semester or may be offered but are difficult to get into, if class size is limited or if the course is required. Find out how common it is for students to be shut out of desired courses or to land on wait lists.
Waiting to take classes can eat up time and money while you're in college. Knowing the limitations of your class schedule at a particular school will help you plan around these obstacles better or help you decide if this is the right school for your chosen program.
8. Know the Graduation Rate: What percentage of students graduate from the school?
Most schools have a graduation rate of 60 to 80 percent. If the university you are interested in has a graduation percentage below this, then this may signal a problem. You should also find out how long it takes, on average, for students to earn their degree.
If a school has low percentage of graduates, this may mean there's something wrong with the system or it's difficult for students to complete their degrees in a timely manner. Knowing the overall graduation rate, and what it is for your major will help you gauge the efficacy of the school.
9. Learn About the Faculty: What is the student-to-faculty ratio?
How many students are in each class? What is the class structure of courses in your degree program? Understanding the class structure of your future courses can help you choose an environment that maximizes your learning preferences. If you work best with personalized attention and direct access to professors, look for small class sizes.
10. Explore Course Options: Are distance learning or online courses available?
If you want the flexibility of taking some courses online, or even getting an online degree, then it is important to understand which courses, if any, are available via the Internet. Online programs, and online degrees, are becoming more common as schools try to find ways to save money and better accommodate students’ busy schedules.
Obviously, there is a lot to think about when trying to find college options that fit your needs. Remember, choosing a university is a big commitment, so be sure to have all the information necessary to make an informed decision. Good luck!
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