by Rachel Vilsack
Selecting a school is an important step in preparing for college. There are many factors that play a role in which colleges you consider attending. You’ll find a lot of information posted on a school’s web site, but a visit to the campus for a tour or meeting with an admission or financial aid representative can provided invaluable insight. This is a major life decision, so it’s worth taking the time to do your research!
While the biggest question you might ask yourself is “can I see myself going to school here?” there are some subtle features that might influence your decision. You may want to consider the following:
- Reputation of major or field of study – Presumably you’re looking at schools which offer a field of study consistent with your career interests. Some colleges and universities have regional or national reputations for offering certain programs. (The University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine rates in the top 10 best veterinary schools in the country, for example.) Depending on your long-term career goals, this may be an important decision-making factor.
- Location of school or facility – This could be a geographic or transportation consideration. Do you want to attend a college in Minnesota or are you looking for an out-of-state location? If you’re looking locally, do you want a college campus on a bus line or are you willing to commute 45 minutes each day? Either way, transportation (moving costs or gas), housing, and food can add to the amount of money you’ll need to attend college.
- Cost of program or courses – Colleges can be non-profit, for-profit, private, or public – and they all have different cost structures. Each college may offer a variety of financial aid options, so be sure to investigate the costs at the colleges you’re considering. If offered, it may be helpful to attend a financial aid workshop to learn what kind of aid is available and deadlines for applying.
- Student body size – College size may be a personal preference. Do you want a vibrant college campus with tens of thousands of fellow classmates? Or a more intimate setting with a few hundred students?
- Faculty/student ratio – How many instructors are there per student on campus? This might not seem like a critical factor for selecting a college, but it can give you insight into what to expect. A large campus with high faculty/student ratios might mean that introductory classes will be lecture-style with 100 or more students, which limits your interactions with a professor. During enrollment, you might also be competing for openings to popular – or specialty – class offerings.
- Availability of classes – There are many more options today to take classes online, in the evenings, or on the weekend. If your schedule is such that you need a flexible program, make sure to investigate the availability of hybrid learning; can you take traditional classroom and online classes? Are there adequate evening and weekend class offerings in your field of study?
- Apprenticeship or internship – An apprenticeship or internship may be required for your major. Does the school offer assistance in finding an opportunity for you?
- Extracurricular opportunities – Are you interested in getting involved in other activities – like music, clubs, or athletics – while at college? If so, it will be important to explore the extracurricular activities offered by the schools you’re considering.
If you’re researching colleges right now, you’re in luck! The Minnesota National College Fair will be held on October 9 and 10 in Minneapolis. Visit with 350 representatives from colleges and universities in Minnesota and from around the country. The fair is free and open to the public. Check their website for times and other important information.