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You Have College Choice Options

Last updated March 1, 2021

There are so many options for college – opportunities abound! How do you pick your dream school? As you try to narrow down which schools to apply to, you can start by answering three key questions:

  1. What do you want to study?
  2. Do you want to go close to home or farther away?
  3. Do you want to go to a bigger school or smaller school?

Interested in specific job training?

Community colleges are a great low-cost option and tend to have programs that focus on training or skill development that lead to a career. Students who attend a community college typically find one close to home (they don’t tend to have on-campus housing). Once you start a community college you can transfer to a four-year college (e.g. you start a program for a License Practical Nurse but then want to go to a four-year RN program). Don’t assume, though. Not all community college programs are designed for you to transfer to a four-year school. Note: There are also for-profit schools that offer specific job training (e.g. Devry, Art Institute). These schools tend to be more expensive than community colleges. So be sure you do your research before you enroll in a for-profit.

Interested in a professional career?

Four year colleges are the gateway to almost all professions – business, marketing, design, medicine, journalism, etc. Four-year colleges typically award undergraduate (Bachelor’s) and graduate (Master’s, Doctorate) degrees. They vary in size from as small as a few hundred students to as many as 60,000 students. Four-year colleges have a mix of students from across the state, country, and world. They might have dynamic sports teams or focus strictly on academics.

Do you want to go to college close by?

Each state has a number of state colleges and universities and/or community colleges. These schools tend to be scattered across the state so you can find one within 50 miles of your house. They are publicly funded schools, meaning they receive the majority of their funding from the state government budget. When budgets are tight, public schools might have less financial aid to offer, so the more competitive your application the better. The tuition at public colleges and universities tends to be fairly affordable.

Do you want to go to college farther away? 

As you expand where you are looking, there are more choices! In addition to going to a public college in your state, you can go to a public college in another state (which is likely not as affordable) or to a private, non-profit college. Did you know some of the most popular schools in the country fall into the private category? Notre Dame, Duke, New York University, USC, Baylor, Vanderbilt, Brigham Young, and Stanford are just a few of the most popular private colleges. While private colleges tend to be far more expensive than public schools, private schools often offer larger financial aid packages because of private donors and large endowments. That means their net price is lower than many public colleges.

Do you want to go to a big school?

A big college – one with 7,500+ students – often has a wide variety of majors and courses, great facilities (think library, dorms, gyms) and state-of-the-art research programs. These are often called “universities”. Most universities will contain several smaller colleges (engineering, social work, business, etc.). For good or bad, it is easy to get lost at a big school – introductory classes often have more than 100 students enrolled. Students who do best at big schools like meeting lots of people, appreciate the thrill of getting lost in a crowd and are good at being able to speak up and take advantage of all the opportunities available. Remember, big schools can be private, non- profit (Harvard, Stanford, etc.) or public (Cal Berkeley, U of Ohio, etc.)

Do you want to go to a small school?

Small schools (often just called “colleges”) are the perfect fit if you appreciate getting to know your professors and advisers, like smaller class sizes, and love the idea of knowing everyone on campus. While there are fewer majors/programs available at these schools, and for the most part their athletics are not as top-tier (yes, there are exceptions … like Gonzaga basketball), it is a great environment if you want to get to know your professors and you want them to know you! Most small schools are private, non profit colleges (yes a whole bunch have great financial aid!). These schools may have a special focus like music (e.g. Berklee College of Music), fashion (Fashion Institute of Technology) or even be single-gender (all girls schools include Wellesley College or Mount Holyoke). 

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