Not to sound overly dramatic, but, choosing which college to attend is one of the MOST IMPORTANT decisions you will probably ever make.
That choice will impact your life for years to come, long after you have graduated. And, there are just so many factors to consider when choosing a college: Some of them immediate, others more far reaching.
If you’re trying to decide which college in Colorado to attend (or anywhere for that matter), here are some important factors you should weigh before making up your mind....
1.) Programs Offered
The programs offered is the most important factor to consider. So important, in fact, that it’s worth mentioning again: Programs offered. Whether your future career lies in education, metallurgy, or the fine arts, you want to attend a school that offers a program that fits your needs and goals like a glove. Check out some interesting programs involving Public Health at CU Denver and Criminal Justice for starters!
This is the rest of your life, we’re talking about. Think carefully about your career goals and what type of college program will allow you to reach them. Research the field you plan to go into carefully so that you know what kind of degree you will need to enter that field, then short list the schools that offer that degree.
2.) Overall Cost
In a perfect world, money would not matter when deciding where to go to school. You would simply choose the school you liked the best, sign up and start packing. Unfortunately, money does have a place in this discussion. After all, the College Board estimates the average cost of a college education at a four-year, private, non-profit school to be more than $43,000.
When choosing a school, you will need to look at the overall cost of the programs that interest you. You will likely need to get student loans to complete your schooling, so weigh your future earning potential from the degree you choose against how much debt you can reasonably expect to repay.
Usually, it is much less expensive to attend a school in the state where you live, since most schools offer substantial savings to the residents of their state. Some schools, however, have exchange programs with neighboring states. Both states agree to accept a certain number of each other’s out-of-state students at the in-state tuition rate. Some even offer in-state rates to the children of alumni.
If you want to know more specific costs for several different colleges around Colorado, check out a previous post: "What Does It Cost To Go To College In Colorado" to begin your research.
3.) Campus Culture
Just like people, every college and university has a culture all its own.
Some are focused on academics. Others put sports at the forefront. Some may be more worldly; others more introspective. Still others may attract a large number of international students, or emphasize social awareness. None of these are any better or worse than the other. How does the University set up their campus to aid students?
CU Denver focuses on a lot of these important aspects. Take a look at how they utilize their Academic Building to aid students in achieving maximum college success!
What matters is how they fit with your own personality. Are you outgoing and plan to have an active social life while at school? Are your studies more important than anything else? Whatever your personality, consider whether the school’s culture is a good fit for you.
Maybe you plan on participating in distance education by taking advantage of online courses. If that's the case, then look for a school with a lively online community, as well.
4.) Grants, Scholarships and Work Study
When considering a school, scour their website for information about financial aid. While any loans you qualify for can usually be used at any qualified school, each university will have an array of grants and scholarships offered only to people attending their school. Many schools also have work study programs that offer on-campus jobs to students.
There are usually a finite number of jobs available, however, and they are usually awarded based on financial need as well as on a “first come, first served” basis. So, if you feel you might qualify, be sure to look into signing up as soon as possible. I also have a helpful post to give you a better idea of how exactly to get scholarships to pay for your schooling.
Most people know to look carefully at the cost of tuition when they’re considering a college, but the local cost of living should be factored in, as well. Especially if you’re considering off-campus housing.
A school located in a large urban area would likely have a higher cost of living than one in a smaller town. A university associated with a resort area would have the highest cost of living of all. The Council for Community and Economic Research has a free cost of living calculator that can help you compare living cost from one U.S. city to the next.
5.) How Does It Measure Up?
Looking at national rankings is one way to evaluate any school you’re thinking of attending. U.S. News and World Report ranks colleges every year based on criteria such as how many first-year students return, how many students actually graduate and the “strength of the faculty.”
Remember, however, that while looking at national rankings is certainly a good place to start, the magazine itself reminds students that there are "many other factors than those spotlighted" in their study to consider when choosing a school. Specifically: campus life, academic offerings, social activities, sports and financial aid. Hmmm? Seems like most of those are already here on our list
There was a time when going to college meant climbing on a bus in the Fall and heading off to school with a suitcase under your arm. It was understood that everyone would live on campus and attend classes for four years then leave with their degree. Not anymore.
Many people are looking for less traditional ways of earning a degree. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you're heading back to school after being in the workforce for many years. Maybe you have a job to keep and a family to care for. If this is the case, you will need some flexibility in how you handle your coursework.
Find out if the school you’re considering offers online degrees. Taking some – or all – of your classes online will make it easier to fit college into your “real” life. Find out who teaches the online classes, as well. Ideally, they should be taught by the same instructors who teach in the brick-and-mortar classrooms, insuring that all the classes you take are of the same high quality.
7.) Location, Location, Location
While your academic goals are certainly your first priority while attending school, you will also have a life outside of school. Look at where the school is located. Are there recreation opportunities available? If you love to ski, a school in a mountain town would be bliss, wouldn’t it? Do you love water sports? Consider a school near the sea.
Whatever your passion – horses, jet skis, backpacking, jazz – look around and see if the locale of the school you’re looking at has these amenities to offer.
8.) Housing Options
Where you live will have a large impact on your college experience. Look carefully at the housing options that will be available to you at any school you’re considering. Some universities require freshmen to live on campus, and that can be a great experience.
Living right on campus really gives you a chance to dive into the campus culture and all the associated activities. Off-campus housing, however, can sometimes be a cheaper option, especially if you can arrange to live with one or more roommates.
You should be able to contact the housing department of any school you’re considering attending for information about both on and off-campus housing costs and options.
9.) Getting Involved
Most schools offer a wide variety of clubs and campus organizations. These can range from political action committees to support groups. They can offer ways for you to meet other students, get help when you need it, become a volunteer, or take part in social change.
Look into the kinds of groups a school offers. This will not only let you know what social opportunities will be available to you as a student, but it can also tell you a little more about the campus culture.
10.) Ask Around
There’s nothing better than a personal recommendation when it comes to choosing a school. After all, no one knows that school better than the people who have attended it. If you know someone who goes to the school you’re considering, sit down and have a heart to heart talk with them.
Encourage them to tell all – the good, the bad and the boring. Ask them if they were pleased with their choice or, if given the chance, would they do things differently the next time around.
If you don’t know anyone who has attended a particular school, do a web search for forum chatter. You may find people discussing the very school you’re considering.
11.) Check Out the Staff
A good school is so much more than stately buildings or that really cool new stadium. What really matters are the people who make up the teaching staff. Look carefully at the teachers who staff any school you plan to attend. Are they leaders in their fields? What is their background? Are they published? See if you can find their work online. Reading it can give you a feel for their professionality or their points of view.
Consider too, how many classes are taught by professors and how many by their TAs. Lower level courses taught by a TA are certainly an acceptable practice, but you really want as much contact with your professors as possible throughout your college career – they’re the real experts, after all.
You may also have heard of online sites that allow students to rank their professors. While these sites might give you an accurate feel for how well liked a particular teacher is, don’t give them too much weight. Think about it. One really disgruntled freshman, angry over not being allowed to retake the test he showed up late for, could really give an unrealistic skew to that kind of reporting.
12.) Thought About Globetrotting?
Most people consider the school they plan to attend as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. After all, you’re going to be there for at least four years, maybe even longer. Right? Maybe not.
Many schools offer exchange programs that allow their students to study abroad while completing part of their degree requirements. While this may not appeal to everyone, if it piques your interest, by all means, look into it.
13.) Walk the Walk
While reading reviews and searching websites is certainly the best way to create a short list of potential schools, nothing can replace an actual visit – or even two!
If possible, take a trip to any of the schools you’re seriously considering attending.You can make arrangements with the staff to have an official tour of the school, or you can just show up and poke around.
Once there, pay attention. How does the campus feel? Is it open and airy? Are the buildings well kept? Are you comfortable there? Do the students seem happy and sociable? Walk through the library or the dining commons and get a feel for the place.
Don’t be shy about talking to any of the students or staff you run across. Tell them you’re considering coming to school there and would love to hear their take on the place. Most people will be happy to give you an honest review.