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There are almost 2,500 public and private four-year institutions and more than 1,600 two-year community colleges in the country. Deciding which to choose can be daunting unless you take a few simple steps to start the selection process.
1. Figure out what you need from a post-secondary education.
Maybe your path is geared toward workforce development — get in, get out quick and go to work. Sometimes community colleges end up being the right choice for those who want to quickly enter the workforce. If you’re interested in earning a bachelor’s degree, then a four-year institution is probably what you’re seeking (though some community colleges coordinate with universities to offer bachelor’s degree tracks at a two-year school). You might be looking to earning your associate degree first and then transferring, in which case you might start at a community college before transferring to a four-year school.
2. Determine what factors are important to you and make a list of pros and cons.
For example, if you prefer smaller class sizes and more individual attention, then that may be a con or strike against a bigger university, where you might get lost in the crowd in a 300-student lecture hall. A list of other factors might include: affordability; aesthetics of campus; extracurricular opportunities; location; hard numbers about a school’s graduation or completion rates and job placement; athletics (as a fan or athlete); academic support system; dorm life; student body size; food offerings; nightlife and surrounding community; number and types of awards won by the institution; and quality of faculty. You might consider a rating system for each of those factors as you compare schools and develop your list of pros and cons.
3. Visit the school. Once you’ve narrowed your choices, make plans to visit the institutions.
You can tour campuses yourself or sign up for guided group tours. If you find groups distracting, contact the school’s admissions office and ask for an individual tour. Whether you’re by yourself or with a group, imagine yourself going to school wherever it is you’re taking a tour. If it’s hard to see yourself there, then trust your instinct.
4. Act now, while supplies last.
It’s a phrase that conjures a loud, hurried salesman trying to get you to buy their product. But it has real applications when comparing different institutions, many of which cannot take everyone who applies even though they might qualify. Set goals and meeting dates to inquire about, apply to, and possibly tour several institutions.
5. Find proven and trusted sources — other than Google — to help you search and choose.
Some media outlets compile extensive lists that rank the best colleges and universities by several categories, one or more of which might have more relevance in your search. If you do use a search engine for phrases such as “choosing the right college,” look for a .org site that might have little or nothing to gain monetarily from giving you tips during your search.
6. Once you’ve decided on a college, you have time to pick a major.
Most two- and four-year degree tracks have a list of required courses to pass before graduation. If choosing a college sooner than later is intimidating or off-putting for that reason, you can get started by enrolling in classes that will be needed to complete almost any degree, and decide later how to hone your academic path.