So Many Choices (part I): Where Do I Even Start?

There are over 4,000 colleges in the United States and most high school seniors will only apply to between five and ten of them.
How do students and families even begin to know where to start?

Over the next several weeks, we will publish a series of articles aimed at high school freshmen through juniors to will help you understand some of the key differences between colleges and prioritize the things that are most important to you.

Today, we offer a preview of the categories and topics we will be discussing between now and the end of the school year and we are excited to cover each more thoroughly with you this spring. Some ways you can use this as a family:

  • Look over the list below together. Maybe even print it off and do a preliminary 1-10 score for each item.
  • Read the articles each week and talk about you learned. Revisit your scores. Did any of your scores and priorities change based on a new understanding?
  • Visit some colleges this spring before classes are finished and take your list with you. Take notes and rate each school you visit in the Complete College Advising College Comparison Spreadsheet.

Academic Factors:
  • Majors and Minors:
    • Genuine Interest: Assess if the field truly captivates your interest.
    • Job Availability: Explore career opportunities in the chosen field. Is it likely that there will be jobs available when you graduate?
    • Job Security: How likely is this career to be around in 25 years?
    • Post-Graduation Income: Evaluate if the field aligns with your financial goals. Check out the Complete College Advising College Degree Return on Investment (ROI) Database. This searchable/sortable data will show you what an average graduate from any one of over 30,000 degrees can expect to make
    • Research Opportunities: Are they available and are they necessary for your career goals?
    • Internship/Co-op Availability: Check for opportunities to gain practical experience.
    • Certifications or Specialties: Identify any additional qualifications needed for your career and make sure the schools you are considering have them.
  • Grades/Test Scores:
    • Admission Likelihood: Are you likely to be admitted with your scores?
    • Class Standing: Consider your potential standing in the incoming class. Are you okay seeing others who may rank above you get the top opportunities?
  • Academic Quality:
    • Reputation: Evaluate the reputation of the major from the chosen college.
    • Academic Support and Career Services: Consider available support, especially if you have special needs or an IEP.
    • Class Size Importance: Reflect on the significance of class size. Would you really be okay in a classroom of more than 100 students? 200?
Financial Factors:
  • Family Financial Goals: Understand your family’s financial limitations and priorities.
  • College Cost of Attendance: Examine the published cost of attendance and the Complete College Advising College Cost Database.
  • Scholarships: Look into widely available or automatic scholarship opportunities.
  • “Meets Need” Schools: Should you be looking for schools that meet all or most of their students’ financial need from the FAFSA?
Extracurricular Activities:
  • Athletics and Sports: Are there opportunities for you to participate or support as a fan?
  • Art/Entertainment Options: Check for cultural events like concerts, plays, and art exhibits that you can participate in or attend.
  • Other Extracurriculars: Consider the availability of other extracurricular activities that interest you.
  • Greek Life: Reflect on the importance of Greek life in your college experience.
  • Safety: Refer to Cleary Reports for campus safety information.
  • Campus Facilities:
    • Freshmen Dorms: Assess the quality of accommodation for freshmen.
    • Academic Buildings: Consider the condition of buildings for classes and activities.
    • Campus Appearance: Choose between a preference for new/modern buildings or a campus with historical significance.
  • Atmosphere: Gauge if the people on campus are “your kind of people.”
    • Campus Life: Evaluate whether students stay on weekends and the overall campus vibe.
  • College’s Location or Setting:
    • Proximity to City: Decide if being near a major city is crucial.
    • Distance from Home: Determine your comfort level with distance from home.
    • Campus Integration: Consider if you want the campus to be part of or separate from the city/town.

Keep reading:
So Many Choices (part II): Choosing a Major and Career

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