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Beyond the Basics of Choosing a College

When choosing a college or university, you may benefit from asking more than the standard questions. Since you and your family will be paying for you to attend college, asking in-depth questions now can help you make a good investment in your future.

Your success in — and after — college depends a lot on your commitment to your education and to graduating. A college that is invested in your success will offer you the support you need.

Seek Out Specifics

Most colleges offer information upfront about their:

  • Overall graduation rate.
  • Post-education job placement rate.
  • Students' average debt upon graduating.

This information provides a good overview, but once a college makes your short list, you can seek out more specific details. Ask about students who are similar to you (e.g., your sex, race, choice of major and status as a first-generation college student) when it comes to these rates and numbers. You might want to ask about the school's retention rate, or even better, your chosen department's retention rate.

Your choice of major and the type of school you plan to earn that degree from are also important factors. Are you planning to major in a liberal arts field at a university? What would be different if you attended a liberal arts college instead of a university? What if you're hoping to earn an engineering degree at a private college? Will your opportunities be the same there as they would be at a large university?

If you know what you plan to major in or have a general idea of what you'd like to study, find out more about that academic department and its class offerings.

  • Research other schools with strong reputations in your major to see how they stack up with the colleges you're looking at.
  • Find out how many faculty members have advanced degrees or relevant experience in your major and how many undergraduate classes they teach each semester. Do an online search for articles and research that individual professors have published.
  • Check out the course catalog to see how many classes are offered for your major, if the options are wide-ranging and whether you see both comprehensive classes and more in-depth classes that focus on a specific topic.

Check Out Career Services Offerings and Internship Opportunities

A college that is really invested in your success will have integrated internship opportunities and career services offerings.

At the career services office:

  • Is there more than simply job posting and resume writing assistance?
  • Does the staff work with you to ensure your classes are also benefiting your future job prospects?
  • Do you see opportunities for part-time work during the school year or during summer breaks that will help you build a strong resume for your future career, not simply pay your bills

When it comes to internships:

  • Does the career services office have information about a variety of internships and the process for obtaining an internship?
  • Does your major department offer internships or work with businesses to find internships for students?
  • Does the college put a significant emphasis on students taking on internships or is the general message more hands off?

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