(presented by college.gov)
Things to think about as you look for schools:
Cost. What will your total annual costs be, including tuition and fees, room and board, books, travel and other expenses? Does the school participate in the federal student aid programs? This College Navigator can help you find out. You can find other great info with these tools.
Location. This is a biggie. Do you move away or not? If you decide you might go to a school away from home, factor in the cost of traveling to and from school for holiday and semester breaks.
On campus or off. If you go to a school nearby, do you want to live at home, in an on-campus dorm/residence hall or in private, off-campus housing? If you attend a school away from home, do you want to live in an on-campus dorm or in private housing? These decisions may require you to balance cost versus other factors, such as your independence and lifestyle.
Size. Do you want a small, intimate setting? A school that's big enough to be a city by itself? Or something in between?
Majors and concentrations offered. If you have an idea of what you want to study, does the school offer that major? Does their program have a good reputation? If you aren't sure what you want to study, does the school give you plenty of options?
Flexibility. If you need to work full-time while you go, does the school have night courses or other options to accommodate you? Will they let you go part-time? Do they offer summer courses?
Admission requirements. What academic standards (grade point average, required courses, etc.) do you have to meet in high school to get in? Which tests will you have to take?
Accreditation. Is the school accredited? An accredited school meets certain standards set by an independent agency. Accreditation helps ensure the training and education you receive will meet the standards of employers in a specific field. You can use the U.S. Department of Education's Institution Accreditation Search Page to check a particular school's accreditation or to find an accredited school in a particular field or location. What if the school I choose isn’t accredited?
- You might not be able to get any financial aid to help you attend the school. The U.S. Department of Education requires that schools that participate in our federal student aid programs be accredited. You also could find that your state education agency's aid programs won't pay for your attendance at unaccredited schools.
- You might not be able to transfer to another school. For instance, if you attend an unaccredited two-year school and then transfer to a four-year school to finish your education, you might have to start over again at the four-year school if it doesn't recognize the classes you took at the two-year school.
- You might not be able to get a good job. Unaccredited schools generally don't have as good a reputation as accredited schools do. Many employers won't hire someone with a certificate from a school they've never heard of or know is unaccredited. (studentaid.ed.gov)
Religious affiliation. Do you want to attend a school associated with a particular religion?
Diversity. Will you feel comfortable with the makeup of the student body?
Career services. Does the school have programs with a good track record for helping graduates find good jobs?
Kinds of Schools: Set Your Course
The school you choose needs to fit your interests, career goals, your financial situation and other factors (see the Find the Right Fit section below). Schools fall into these basic types:
- Public versus private. Public schools are operated by state and local governments. Tuition is often less at a public school. Private schools are not affiliated with a government organization. They may be non-profit, such as colleges run by private foundations or religious denominations. Or, they may be for-profit businesses, such as many career, trade or technical schools.
- Four-year colleges and universities. These can offer bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees, and sometimes include professional schools, like law school or medical school. Universities tend to be larger than colleges.
- Two-year community and junior colleges. These offer two-year associate degrees and sometimes certifications in particular career fields, like nursing. Because their costs are often lower and admission is more open, many students start their college careers here.
- Career, technical, vocational or trade schools. These prepare students for specific careers, such as welding, cosmetology, medical imaging and electronics assembly. Their programs may be two years or less. Many of these schools are for-profit businesses. Do lots of research to make sure they can deliver what they promise.