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Determine Where to go to College in 5 Easy Steps with the Help of Internet Resources

by Kelly Walsh on August 8, 2012

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While this is not a traditional education technology subject, this article, collaboratively written with Erin Palmer, covers an important topic and leverages technology in an education related context. I thought it was worth sharing, especially at this time of year when many potential students are considering going to college this fall. – KW

Are you a high school junior or senior considering where to go to college? Or maybe you’ve been out of high school for some time and you’re considering pursuing a college degree? For some, choosing a college or major will be easy, but many struggle with an overabundance of information and options and can benefit from some guidance. Here is a step-by-step approach to aid the decision-making process that will set you on a new path that can benefit you for the rest of your life.

1. Select A Major. What sort of degree do you want? Are you entrepreneurial in nature? Maybe a business major is right for you? Are you a ‘techie’ – how about a Computer Science degree? Or maybe, like many, you’re just not too sure which direction to go. If you aren’t sure what career path to pursue, you have some options. You could start taking standard pre-requisite/basic undergraduate courses to get your feet wet. You could also take a career assessment test to see what career(s) your strengths and interests will best translate into. Thanks to the Internet, you can take an assessment from the comfort and privacy of your own home. For example, check out these resources from CareerPath, a division of CareerBuilder, which include tests to help determine your strengths. Another helpful resource is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, which allows visitors to research occupations and learn about education requirements, salary ranges and expected career growth.

2. Weigh a 2-Year versus a 4-Year Degree. Aside from the length of time it will take to earn a degree, there are other differences you should consider between Associate’s (2 year) and Bachelor’s (4 year) degree programs, such as costs, and the potential for a 2 year degree to transfer into a 4 year degree program. The applicability of each degree type to the sort of job you are interested in as also an important consideration (some jobs typically require an Associate’s degree, while others may require a Bachelor’s degree).

Typically, you will find an assortment of 2-year degree programs at vocational, technical, community and junior colleges. As long as the institution is accredited, they usually allow for an easy transition from Associate’s degree into a Bachelor’s degree program at a 4-year institution. Many traditional 4-year colleges and universities offer associate’s degrees, as well. However, if you are worried about class size or cost you should take those aspects into consideration as well.

3. Consider Your Preference(­s) ­– Public, Private, For Profit, or Non-Profit Institution.
Now that you’ve chosen the type of degree program you want, the next step will be to figure out if you prefer a private or public school. Some things to consider:

  • Public/state-run colleges and universities usually cost less, but may have larger class sizes. Conversely, private and For-Profit institutions generally cost more, but may have smaller class sizes and more one-on-one attention from educators (but this doesn’t apply to all).
  • Vocational and Technical Colleges also fall into the private/for-profit group. Tuition is generally more expensive, but training is more concentrated and class sizes are typically smaller.
  • There are some private, non-profit institutions – these are predominantly religious-based institutions. Many of these offer similar programs to other colleges.

4. Narrow Your Selections to a “Top 5” List. Before making your decision, get a piece of paper out and start writing down what it is you want in a college. A few other important things you should consider and investigate are:

  • Online, Hybrid, and Ground (‘face-to-face’) Programs and Courses: Do you have a preference? Fully online programs can be a lot more work than some imagine, and some students prefer the discipline of having to attend class at specified times. Of course, online courses bring nice convenience. Maybe you want a face-to-face program that still offers some courses online or hybrid (which often means every other class session is online) as an option. These are important considerations to weigh.
  • Accreditation: In the U.S., accreditation is the process whereby colleges prove that their programs follow a set of requirements focused on learning and quality education delivery. To confirm that a U.S. based college you are considering is accredited, check http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/. To learn more about accreditation in other countries, try a Google search for “college accreditation in {country}”.
  • Graduation and placement rates: Many schools publish these on their web site, but if they don’t, be sure to ask about them. Many private schools tend to have better graduation rates than public schools. “Placement rates” refers to how successful graduates are at finding employment. This is a great piece of information to be aware of, and make sure you are asking specifically about placement rates for the degrees you are considering.
  • Rankings: You can find college rankings in publications such as U.S. News & World Report, Baron’s Best Buys in College Education, and others, but these can be based on popularity or factors other than academics and may be a less that optimal source of information for that reason.

5. Research Financial Aid. College can be expensive. How are you going to pay for it? You need to consider:

  • Costs of Tuition, Books, etc: Each college in the U.S. provides tuition information and they are required to provide estimates of other costs as well.
  • Grants: Are there grants available for you? In the U.S., you will need to complete the FAFSA (“Federal Application For Student Aid”) in order be eligible for any sort of aid, including both grants and loans.
  • Scholarships: Each college differs in the types of scholarship aid available – you’ll want to talk to the Admissions personnel at schools you are considering to learn about options for institutional scholarships. Beyond that, there are many types and sources of scholarships, so some Internet searching would be a good idea (that topic alone could be a whole separate article!).
  • Loans: There are many different types of loans available. Check out http://studentaid.ed.gov/types/loans for an overview of options available to US students.
  • Employer Reimbursement: Does your employer have a tuition reimbursement program? Stop by your HR Department and find out.
  • To learn more in the U.S., check out the resources on http://studentaid.ed.gov/. For other countries, the resources available will vary – try an Internet search to learn more.

Go visit your top 3 choices. Congratulations, you’re almost there! Taking a campus tour will help with your final decision. Going on this tour is a good way to get a feel for the campus, staff and students. It’s also a good idea to talk to people as you walk around. There’s no better way to learn the ins and outs than by word-of-mouth. Plus, it’s a good way to network and meet potential classmates.

Now you are well equipped to make a final decision and enroll. Best of luck!

This post was provided by Erin Palmer. Erin writes about online education and going back to school topics for US News University Directory. For more information please visit http://www.usnewsuniversitydirectory.com.

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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