Colleges and Universities: What Factors to Consider When Choosing Where to Go

Updated on February 17, 2020
JC Scull profile image

JC Scull lived abroad working in international market development and taught international business relations and strategies.

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Introduction

Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions you or your child can make; perhaps as important as which field of study to pursue. This decision will have a lasting impact on the student’s personal and professional life and it’s one that goes beyond an undergraduate diploma, as it is also important for those seeking a post graduate degree.

Unfortunately, colleges are frequently chosen based on emotion rather than a set of well thought out criteria. High school students in some cases choose universities in order to stay close to friends, perceived prestige of an institution or parental pressure. While a student can still attain a good education and perform well academically irrespective of how a decision was made, undergoing a higher level of scrutiny will yield far better results.

The following is a list of factors that should be taken into consideration when making this important decision.

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Know Yourself - Bachelor's, Associates or Trade School

Knowing yourself is the first step in the journey all high school students must take in order to decide what direction to go after graduation. This includes the decision of whether the student wants to pursue a four-year college education, an associate degree, go to trade school or directly enter the job market.

An associate degree can be a viable option for students who want a shorter path to a career while avoiding large burdensome student loans. Some of the attractive careers an associate degree can provide are air traffic controller, dental hygienist, funeral director, engineering, operations technician, physical therapist and legal assistant. Some of these careers can pay anywhere from $50,000 annually as in the case of physical therapists, to $108,000 for air traffic controllers.

For those that want to take a more hands-on approach to future employment, trade schools offer careers in construction management, oil well operators, aircraft mechanic, plumbing, pipefitting, electrician, crane operator and much more. Most of these jobs pay anywhere from $25.00 to $50.00 per hour. Trade school diplomas can be obtained within eight months to two years of classes.

Unfortunately, as society becomes more complex, entering the job market directly upon graduating from high school is not as good of a strategy as it was fifty years ago. Manufacturing jobs are not as plentiful as they were in the mid-twentieth century. Today, most of the jobs those with just a high school degree or less can obtain are in the service industry earning minimum wage or slightly above.

Keeping all of this in mind, let’s assume that if you are reading this article, a four-year degree from a college or university is the decision you have made. Being this the case, the idea that you should know yourself before choosing an institution of higher learning becomes crucial. The following are some questions you must ask yourself which will hopefully help you make this important decision.

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What career do you want to pursue after graduation?

While some students know exactly what career path to follow, others are not so sure. Coming to this determination will help you identify whether you should follow a liberal art or a technical field as well as what your major should be. This information in turn will also help you decide to which schools you should apply.

Fortunately, there are several aptitude test students can take that will help them know more about themselves. The following are the top career tests high school students can take:

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Career Aptitude Test.

The MBTI is one of the most widely-used tests by high school guidance counselors. It uses observable behavior in order to determine your personality type which in turn can provide clues to potential career choices. The four basic personality types it identifies are the following:

  • Extroversion vs. Introversion – It answers whether you direct your attention and interest to outside of the self or internally.
  • Sensing vs. Intuition – This describes how you interpret information; through your senses or by intuition.
  • Thinking vs. Feeling – Determines whether decisions are made logically or emotionally.
  • Judging vs. Perceiving – This determines whether you want things decided or are open to options.

You can take the MBTI here.

Holland Code Career Aptitude Test.

This very effective but sometimes expensive test reflects on the similarities between you and the people with whom you interact. This test measures your interest in six areas.

  • Realistic – preference for construction, mechanical, electrical or hands-on type work
  • Investigative – aptitude for research, problem-solving, thinking and experimentation
  • Artistic – art, design, self-expression and creativity
  • Social – teaching, public speaking, counseling, medical care, social work
  • Enterprising – desire to be in business, sale, leadership, persuasion, politics
  • Conventional – ability for recording, organizing, categorizing

You can take the Holland Code test here.

MAPP or Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential.

One of the most credible free career tests, it is specifically designed for students who wish to decide which college courses to take, which major to follow and what career to choose. It asks 71 questions in order to comprehensively analyze temperament, interests, skills and learning styles. It identifies the tasks the test takers enjoy, their work methods, how they interact with others and deal with other aspects of work.

The results can be quite extensive at times delivering dozens of pages comprising of detailed analysis. For a sample result of a hypothetical “Jane Doe” you may see the report here.

You can take the MAPP test here.

Keirsey Temperament Aptitude Sorter

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is based on Dr. David Keirsey’s model which identifies four distinct personality types or temperaments.

  • Guardian – These are dutiful people who trust authority. They pride themselves on being dependable, helpful, and hard-working. They attempt to preserve our most important social institutions.
  • Idealist – Compassionate people who think more abstractly and strive to find a deeper purpose for what they do. They are passionately concerned with personal growth and development.
  • Rational – People who seek self-control, discipline, and competence. Problem solvers.
  • Artisan – These are optimists and fun-loving people with a natural ability in the arts.

You can take the Keirsey test here:

The Princeton Review Career Quiz.

Especially designed for incoming college freshmen it measures your interests, motivation, stress management and interpersonal behavior. It accomplishes this by looking at your wants and needs and placing you in the following categories:

  • Red: Production-centered
  • Green: People-centered
  • Blue: Idea-centered
  • Yellow: Procedure-centered

You can take the test here,

What type of school should you attend?

After you have taken some or all the aptitude tests described above and you have an idea of what your major will be, it is time to decide what type of college or university to attend. Some institutions of higher learning lean toward the liberal arts while others are better known for technical fields such as math, science and engineering.

Typically, small liberal arts colleges provide students with a foundation in the arts, humanities, mathematics, natural and social sciences. A liberal arts degree prepare students for a variety of careers and not necessarily a specific career path. They typically do not have much to offer students who wish to pursue careers in engineering, technical or scientific fields.

On the other hand, larger research universities dedicate the type of resources necessary in these areas of study. Consequently, they offer a broader array of classes in many subjects and disciplines, as well as majors in very specific fields.

Choosing the type of school to attend provides you with the broadest level of criteria, after which you can narrow down your list of subjects leading to the proper desired degree.

Which geographic location suits you best?

Whether to go away to school, live at home or stay close to home are important determinations to make as they will directly affect the student’s performance, happiness and pocketbook. Some of the questions a student must ask regarding the location of their school of choice are:

  • First and foremost, can the student afford going away to school?
  • Does the student want to live in a big city or a smaller quieter town?
  • What about a party campus? Or a location that offers less distractions?
  • Is weather a consideration? Warmer South versus colder North.
  • Will a strong regional culture be a problem?
  • Consider expensive big city versus more affordable smaller town.
  • Are crime and safety factors to consider?
  • Even if you like the school, do you like the location as a whole?

While research can be conducted regarding all the above criteria, it is highly recommended to make one or two visits to the campus in order to get a feel for how life will be during the time the student will be attending the school of choice.

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Should you choose a large or a small school?

Small colleges often offer more personalized classes that encourage active participation. They also offer a strong sense of community allowing students the opportunity to interact with professors and administrators. Since most professors are mainly focused on teaching and less on research, their classroom skills are at times more polished.

Something else to consider is that large universities can often be less expensive, since many smaller colleges are private and charge higher tuition. Large public university receive state funding and their sizable student population help keep tuition costs down.

Large institutions also offer more choices in majors, additional extracurricular activities, large sports programs and abundant resources. Conversely, sometimes colleges stay small in order to specialize in liberal arts and its various disciplines.

Keep in mind however, a small school can still be in a big city, while a big school in a small town. Therefore, student can have the best of both world; depending upon priorities.

The following are reasons to choose a small college:

  • You require teacher guidance and support.
  • You like the more intimate setting of a small class.
  • The school’s brand name recognition is not important.
  • Clubs, sports, and extracurricular activities are not important
  • A smaller college offers your major.
  • You want less competition in class as well as for scholarships and work study positions.
  • Research isn’t an important consideration in your field of study.
  • The opportunity to network is important.
  • You want to develop a relationship with your professors and advisors.
  • You want a school that feels like a community and enjoy seeing familiar faces.
  • You just don’t like large groups.

The following are reasons to choose a large university:

  • You are an independent learner and don’t require help from instructors.
  • You want an active college life with clubs, sports and other activities.
  • You don’t mind large impersonal classes.
  • School name recognition is important.
  • Attending and cheering at games are important activities for you.
  • Your major is not offered in smaller schools.
  • Being taught by teaching assistants is acceptable.
  • Academic competition is acceptable.
  • You want a large alumni network when you graduate.
  • You like large groups of people.
  • Research is a major part of your studies.
  • You don’t mind a large campus that takes time to get around.

How Important is Accreditation?

Once a few colleges or universities have been identified as potentially viable for the student, accreditation is an important criterion to consider. Being an accredited institution means that an official licensing organization verifies that a school meets academic standards for higher education. Most institutions readily provide this information in their websites or upon request.

Colleges or universities can be nationally or regionally accredited. Schools, department or programs within an institution can also receive accreditation from the same licensing organizations. Accreditation is important as it ensures that a degree is recognized by employers or other institutions.

For more information on accreditation for postsecondary education institutions you can visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website here.

What Will Be the Cost of Education?

For many students the cost of education is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Irrespective of how much a student wishes to go to a specific college, the monetary outlay required by that institution could easily extinguish his or her dream. Fortunately, there are many options in schools, financial aid, scholarships, grants and work-study programs that students can investigate and possibly use.

Despite all the financial options available, however, parents and students must come to the realization that the cost of a college education is at a record high in the United States. It has substantially increased in the last forty years to a point where students heading to college as freshmen will most likely be facing debts that could easily span years, even decades to pay.

Complicating matters, each region in the United States varies in tuition as well as cost of living.

According to data from the non-profit College Board, western states have experienced the highest increase in tuition (60%) for two-year and four-year institutions in the last ten years. This increase has been driven by the fact that some of the top public schools in the country – such as the University of California system – are there. In the meantime, Midwest colleges have only increased 22% and Northeastern institutions have remained well below the 20% increase mark.

Keep in mind, however, the very prestigious universities in New England still remain as the most expensive in the country.

In the last 40 years the average cost of college, including tuition and room and board, has increased by more than 150%
In the last 40 years the average cost of college, including tuition and room and board, has increased by more than 150% | Source
The average tuition cost in each region of the U.S. for two-year and four-year schools.
The average tuition cost in each region of the U.S. for two-year and four-year schools. | Source

As shocking as it might seem, on average a college education in the new decade can cost a student as much as $50,000 annually between tuition, room and board and other expenses. Students that will depend on student loans to fulfill this financial requirement, can be assured of carrying a debt equivalent to a mortgage on a home.

One strategy students wanting to avoid heavy financial burden after graduation, is to attend a public two year college and transfer to a major state university for the remaining two years of a bachelors degree. Of course, doing this within an in-state public university system.

An additional strategy worth considering is living at home and attending a local two year community college after which the student can transfer to a major in-state university. Keep in mind that the vast majority of community colleges have not only improved their academic standards but have also made it easier to transfer credit to four-year schools.

The following chart showing the average cost of a college education will help students in creating a strategy for approaching the financial burden they will most likely face.

A Breakdown of the Average Costs of College

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What About Academic Majors and Career Opportunities?

Let’s assume the student reading this article has decided on the type of school, the area of the country and the financing needed to attend an institution of higher learning. It is now time to choose a major.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80 percent of students in the U.S. will change their majors at least once after entering college. On average, students change their majors at least three times prior to graduation. A change of major may not necessarily be as drastic as going from pursuing a degree in engineering to becoming an English major. Sometimes it can be within departments, such as a business management degree to marketing; or from mechanical to civil engineering. However, a change in major can sometimes mean transferring to a different institution.

Even though the likelihood of changing majors is high, it is best for the students to at least pin down the overall direction of their desired career in order to avoid the worst case scenario of transferring to another college. Keep in mind that transferring to another school may cause the loss of credit hours, ultimately elongating the time a student will attend college and therefore adding to the cost for an education.

A good strategy to consider is choosing a range of majors that can later be matched with two or three different schools. Once the student has identified the general direction of his or her academic career and the potential colleges, it is time to compare the curriculum each college offers and decide which offers the best fit. This will allow the student the opportunity to make a final decision during the freshman or sophomore year if necessary. But the main idea is choosing a major with which you can stick with or make minor adjustments prior to graduation.

Ideally, the student has made a firm selection of a major. This will allow for the selection of a college or university within the context of a larger career path. It will allow the student the opportunity to investigate academic departments, faculty members and the overall attractiveness of the programs offered by the colleges.

Realistically, most students declare a major during their sophomore year, which is fine if a general direction in career paths has been well researched and deliberated. The main idea is to minimize surprises.

While some students choose a major based on their love for a profession or avocation regardless of how much money they will potentially earn in the future, others consider their potential financial reward seriously. If future income is not a consideration, by all means go with your heart. However, for those looking to maximize their financial prospects, the following twenty-five professions pay the best to people who only possess a bachelor’s degree.

  • 25. General and operations manager - Median annual wage $99,310
  • 24. Materials scientist - Median annual wage $99,430
  • 23. Sales engineer - Median annual wage $100,000
  • 22. Software applications developer - Median annual wage $100,080
  • 21. Actuary - Median annual wage $100,610
  • 20. Advertising and promotions manager - Median annual wage $100,810
  • 19. Computer network architect - Median annual wage $101,210
  • 18. Nuclear engineer - Median annual wage $102,220
  • 17. Training and development manager - Median annual wage $105,830
  • 16. Systems software developer - Median annual wage $106,860
  • 15. Human resources manager - Median annual wage $106,910
  • 14. Public relations and fund-raising manager - Median annual wage $107,320
  • 13. Aerospace engineer - Median annual wage $109,650
  • 12. Purchasing manager - Median annual wage $111,590
  • 11. Computer hardware engineer - Median annual wage $115,080
  • 10. Compensation and benefits manager - Median annual wage $116,240
  • 9. Sales manager - Median annual wage $117,960
  • 8. Natural sciences manager - Median annual wage $119,850
  • 7. Financial manager - Median annual wage $121,750
  • 6. Airline pilot, copilot, or flight engineer - Median annual wage $127,820
  • 5. Petroleum engineer - Median annual wage $128,230
  • 4. Marketing manager - Median annual wage $131,180
  • 3. Architectural and engineering manager - Median annual wage $134,730
  • 2. Computer and information systems manager - Median annual wage $135,800
  • 1. Chief executive - Median annual wage (2016): $181,210

(Business Insider - 2017 - Rachel Gillett)

One caveat. Companies will not offer a recent college graduate one of these positions. These positions are earned through hard work and perseverance. However, this list is meant to give a high school student an idea of the best paying jobs available to workers that possess only a bachelor's degree. It is up to the student to determine the major and the career path to follow in order to qualify for any of these jobs sometime in the future.

Let's face it - nothing in life comes easy.

Questions & Answers

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      • JC Scull profile imageAUTHOR

        JC Scull 

        2 months ago from Gainesville, Florida

        Thank you Tory.

      • Tory Peta profile image

        Tery Peta 

        2 months ago from Bulgaria

        Choosing a college or university is a difficult, but important decision that a person can make in their life. I like and highly agree with your points.

      • JC Scull profile imageAUTHOR

        JC Scull 

        2 months ago from Gainesville, Florida

        It is a challenging time for students and parents. Thank you for commentin Liz.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 months ago from UK

        Thankfully our kids are past this stage of life. But I recall it well and I have several friends going through it with their children. Although our system in the UK is not identical, many of the points you make are relevant to this challenging time of decisions in life.

      • JC Scull profile imageAUTHOR

        JC Scull 

        2 months ago from Gainesville, Florida

        Thank you Umesh.

      • bhattuc profile image

        Umesh Chandra Bhatt 

        2 months ago from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India

        Further, I have shared this article in my Facebook page where many students visit. I feel it may guide them in one way or other.

      • JC Scull profile imageAUTHOR

        JC Scull 

        2 months ago from Gainesville, Florida

        Thank you for your comments Umesh. You are more than welcome to use any of the information in the article.

      • bhattuc profile image

        Umesh Chandra Bhatt 

        2 months ago from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India

        Exhaustive and useful load of information. I have to answer many queries of the students in some local forums. With your kind permission I will be using some of these points there in my verbal explanations. Thanks.

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