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Choosing a College or University: What You Need to Know

How can you possibly choose the perfect postsecondary school among the thousands of options out there? Where should you even begin?

First, realize there is no "perfect" school. There are pros and cons to every choice. You need to do some serious self-examination to figure out what it is that you really want. But you don't have to do it alone.

"Get to know your school counselor and work with them early and often," advises Kansas City high school counselor Rob Lundien.

"Let them know your strengths, passions, interests, [and] abilities, as well as your career and college goals. They will point you in the direction of helping you find schools that are a good fit."

You need to decide what you want when it comes to things like:

  • Academic programs: What types of programs are offered? Are there specialized studies in your field of interest? Is there a co-op program? How long does it take to get a degree?
  • Learning environments: What are the class sizes and the student-to-faculty ratio? How accessible is extra help? How extensive is the library and other academic facilities?
  • Reputation: What's the school's academic reputation? How selective are they? Are they known for excellence in the program you want to take?
  • Campus culture: What's campus life like? Are the other students friendly? Is there a variety of social activities and clubs? Is there a counseling center?
  • Campus culture: What's campus life like? Are the other students friendly? Is there a variety of social activities and clubs? Is there a counseling center?
  • Size: Do you prefer a large school (lots of students) or a small school (fewer students)? What is the layout of the campus like?
  • Location: Want to live at home and go to a nearby school or live some distance away? Do you prefer small towns or big cities? Is there transportation access to the campus? What are the dorms and residences like?
  • Cost: How much is tuition? What does housing cost? What kind of financial aid is available? "

"I also suggest thinking about your goals and your career," says educational consultant Brittany Maschal. "If you plan to go into a career where you may only make a fraction per year of what college X may cost, that may not be the best school as you could be carrying that debt for a long time. Do the math."

You also need to think about where you can reasonably expect to be admitted. What does your grade point average look like? How are your SAT scores? What kind of courses have you taken? Make sure you have the educational foundation to get you where you want to go.

"Students should meet with their school counselor regularly to develop a Personal Plan of Study," says Lundien. "This will help the student follow a pathway of courses that meet their school's graduation requirements and their college and career goals."

It's also important to note the factors that DON'T need to be part of your decision.

"Safely ignore anyone who tells you that you NEED to go to school X," says Maschal. "You can also ignore college rankings, what your friends say, and blanket incentives that all schools will send to most students, although they may claim a special offer or benefit to you."

So how can you maximize your chances of finding the school that's the right fit for you? "Research, research, research, and then do some more research," says Maschal. "Visiting, even if you have already visited once, is also a good option to help you make a final decision.

"The more time and effort you put into getting to know what a school is all about, as well as your motivations and goals for your college experience, the more informed you will be and the better equipped you will be to make the right decision."


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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.