5 Things to Compare When Choosing a College (Besides Price)
As your student thinks about college, there are a lot of factors to consider. Of course, price is one of the biggest, and we work hard to provide a lot of information and tips about how to save money on school.
But finances aren’t the only thing that makes a school ideal for your student. Here are five things to consider when choosing a college – that are not related to cost.
How Crowded is Your Student’s Major?
Making sure the school is highly rated in the area that your child wants to study is always a big deal. But it’s important to go one step further and see how crowded the major is.
You want to make sure that there are enough students in the program that key courses are offered regularly, but not so many that it’s hard to get into required classes.
One member of our Facebook group Paying For College 101 noted,
“My daughter went to a college and couldn’t get into any of her required classes for her major because it was impacted. It was very frustrating for her.”
If a major is “impacted,” or over-crowded, it can take students more than four years to graduate in those programs. That can mean significant additional costs for your family, as well as a delay in your student starting their career.
Choosing a college with a lower overall price can be a mistake if it takes five or more years to graduate!
Are Interesting Electives Still Being Offered?
Many high school seniors love to get a course catalog from their preferred school and think about how they might put their course of study together. They may have their eye on specific electives or even on a particular class within their major.
Unfortunately, at some larger schools, the course catalog isn’t an accurate representation of what’s currently being offered. Some electives may never come around. Or, specific courses may only be offered in a particular semester.
When you and your student are choosing a college, it’s important to know when key courses are offered. If they are only in the spring term every other year, that’s a big consideration!
The lack of specific electives can also be very disappointing to students who are excited about broadening their horizons.
What is Student Life REALLY Like?
If possible, your child should find current students to ask about their experiences on campus. Of course, the students associated with campus visits and Accepted Student Day are likely to be biased, so find sources outside these programs.
Your student can ask questions like:
- What surprised you during your first semester here?
- What do you like about this place? What do you hate?
- Are there a lot of parties?
- What kind of student life programs are there?
- What is Greek life like?
- Is there anyone on campus on weekends or breaks?
In choosing a college, your child should feel comfortable with the answers they receive. If they plan on Greek life but there’s not much presence, that’s a consideration. They should also feel good about the mix of partying and serious study, the non-party student events, and more.
Keep in mind that your student should be asking, out of your earshot. Young people give very different answers to “adults” than they do to each other!
What Transportation is Available?
One big question parents face is whether their child should take a car to college. There’s a lot that goes into that decision.
How much does it cost to keep a car on campus? Is it safe? Is parking expensive, or difficult to find?
You can also find out what other transportation is available. A school that’s well-served by companies like Uber and Lyft can make it much easier on students who don’t have vehicles. It can be much easier to get on-campus and off-campus safely.
There may also be a campus bus system. The city the school is in may also have public transportation. All of these things can help you feel comfortable choosing a college where your child won’t have a car.
The final question about transportation should be the cost of coming home on weekends and breaks. Many parents forget about those factors and find themselves with a lot of unexpected expenses!
What Internships and Study Abroad Options Are Available?
Because so many young people are getting college degrees, it’s important that your student have some unique experiences to stand out from other graduates. Having experience from internships, study abroad options, and more can mean your child is selected for a great job over other candidates.
When choosing a college, you’ll want to find out what internship connections are available, how expensive they are, and how many students participate. If few students do internships, that may be a red flag.
You can also ask about study abroad or cultural opportunities. In today’s global environment, having experience in other countries can be a big plus. Your student will learn to live, work, and communicate with folks that are completely different from them, which is very important in post-college life.
Choosing a College is More Than Cost
Cost is absolutely one of the biggest considerations in choosing a college, but it’s far from the only one. You want to make sure the school is a great fit for your student, and you want them to be happy with their experience.
Taking these five considerations into account will go a long way to making that a reality!
CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS FIGURING OUT HOW TO PAY FOR COLLEGE