I am a 26-year-old college freshmen, and I have spent hours and hours hoping to stumble upon a website that would pretty much just pick my college for me. That definitely did not turn out how I had hoped. After becoming tired and frustrated from my search engines popping up with nothing but university advertisements and boring articles that lead me to nothing, I decided to come up with a list of what really matters when making this big decision. I asked myself a few questions, examined my realistic options, and crafted up this handy guide to simplify this long and confusing life-changing decision.
Make it your first homework assignment.
If you are well prepared to head into the world of college life, you surely have an understanding of what it takes. Well, the same applies to finding a college. You have to put in just as much time and effort as you would on your school assignments. I had this this silly illusion that the answer would magically come to me and all would be well. Wrong. Devote all of your time and effort into doing the research and making an informed decision.
It might be the best college, but is it the right college?
First I had to decide how I wanted to get my education. I had a few options; community college, university, private university, and distance education (aka online classes). Because I am the mother to a seven month old drooly (but adorable) little girl, I decided that online classes would be my best fit. Yes, I would love to brag about getting accepted into one of the best universities, but who am I kidding? I don’t have time to walk to the mailbox let alone attend a school. I have the freedom of being able to study and submit assignments from home during the quiet hours after baby goes to bed. Also consider your learning style. I know that personally, I learn best when I am in a calm environment and I don’t feel like I am being watched. Other people learn best under pressure or with direct contact with a professor. This is a useful link for in-depth detail on different college types. More information about online courses is here. Moral of story; just because it sounds awesome, doesn’t mean it is right for your current circumstances.
What can I afford?
I found a helpful tool online that helped give me a better idea of what I was really looking at. It is of course important to consider where you want to attend and what you want to attend, but before the where’s and what’s cross your mind, ask yourself HOW you are going to attend! This calculator allows you to plug in information like the college type, in or out of state status, length of enrollment, and college cost inflation rate. I had to be realistic and find out what I could afford. I decided that attending in-state was much more cost efficient than attending out-of-state. I also decided that a community college would be more cost effective. So now, I had my possibilities simplified. I knew that I could only do online courses, and that I had no college savings in place to attend Harvard or the like. Online community college it is!
Is your school accredited?
I had to make sure that I didn’t get suckered into the “for-profit” college B.S. (no, that isn’t an acronym for Bachelor’s in Science). Many universities and colleges (particularly online or also known as “private” colleges) are in it for one thing; the $70,000 they rake in from offering you a fast track bachelor’s degree. These “admissions representatives” will tell you anything you want to hear if it means enrolling you to their school. They make a hefty commission off this. I finally decided that I could easily obtain my degree from a traditional university or college for a third of the price. I found a list of for-profit institutions that you may want to look into. Also, make sure that your potential colleges are accredited and recognized. Do the research until you can’t see straight! You are investing into your education and future!
What is your major?
I was one of “those people” who couldn’t pick a major and stick to it. I could never make my mind up, and I gave this topic way too much thought. Stop thinking about it. The moment I stopped obsessing over the fact that I was likely to end up under a bridge holding up a “major unknown” sign, my passion hit me full force. After asking myself “What do I love to do? What do I spend my free time on?” I discovered the answer, and was sort of embarrassed because it was there all along. I love browsing the web and obsessively researching random things that really don’t matter. I love to write, blog, ramble, whatever you call it. I took some online assessments that helped me narrow my options down, one of them was from careerpath.com. This really gave me a better idea of how many options were out there.
The final result: I started school majoring in chemical dependency, and now I am going for computer science. Pretty drastic change right? My current online courses are very comprehensive and have me feeling like I am definitely getting a quality education. Technology is amazing. I am able to receive virtual tutor sessions when necessary, communicate with my instructor efficiently, and feel confident that I am acquiring all of the skills and knowledge that I will need. Another factor to consider in choosing a college is your current education level. Mine was high school graduate. I was nervous about attending school thinking that I would have a hard time keeping up because it has been so long (2004). All colleges and universities will require new students to take placement testing. This ensures that you won’t be taking courses that are above your education level.
To wrap things up, your college search doesn’t have to be difficult. It is about the process of elimination, devoting time to do the research, coming to terms with what will realistically work in your personal situation, and making your decision based on what makes YOU happy. It’s your life, your education, and your choice. Make it a good one.