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How to Choose the Right College

Updated on December 3, 2014
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Ms.Treadwell is a licensed attorney and the author of "How Do Hurricane Katrina's Winds Blow: Racism in 21st Century New Orleans."

The University of Tampa

My alma mater.
My alma mater. | Source

With all of the different types of higher education to choose from, at first glance it can feel daunting. Private schools, public schools, technical programs, fields of study…then there is financing…loan, grant, and scholarship applications. And then there are your feelings and your child’s about whether to go away to college (get a dorm, apartment, roommates) or whether he or she should just stay close to home.

Picking a college can present a myriad of issues to work through but it does not have to be difficult. I spent nearly a decade in proprietary college admissions (that’s lingo for private schools), have been through the process three times for myself (associate’s, bachelor’s, and law programs), and have three adult children that I had to get through the process myself. Now that you know that I understand how you feel, read through my tips in helping your child pick the right college as written in my top ten style.

Top 10 Things to Consider in Selecting a College

  1. Program – Prepare yourself for change, the average traditional student (one who moves from high school right into college) changes his or her major at least five times. It does not have to be that way. The worst way to pick a major is to decide based on what the job market pays. Success comes from doing what one loves because it is then that he or she will put in all the effort – effortlessly. Support your child in the thing he or she is passionate about; don’t worry the money will come with time. If your son or daughter likes to fix things, take them apart and try to put them back together consider a major like engineering, computer technology, electronics, etc. If instead he or she likes helping people then consider a field in social work/psychology, education, medicine, or the legal profession. Get the idea?
  2. Staying close to home or “going away to college” - Determine the maturity of your child and have an honest conversation about whether living on their own is a realistic option.
  3. Financing – Determine who will pay for what. Apply for financial aid programs like grants, loans, and scholarships. Try not to be afraid of student loans. They are a great option if your child does not qualify for “free money.” Student loans are paid monthly after the student leaves school. Deferments are available for unemployment periods. Interest rates are very low.
  4. It is important to consider the reputation and success rate of the college. Pick up a U.S. News & World Report magazine and find out what the best colleges are. Get the most for your money.
  5. One of the purposes of getting an education is to get a career (a J.O.B. is just over broke). Check with the college to determine if they have career placement assistance and what is the college’s success rate for job placement or graduate school acceptance.
  6. Extracurricular activities – if your child has an interest in sports, art, music, honor societies, student government and the like, check the college to see if it has these types of programs. Extracurricular are a great way to learn leadership skills, network with other students (who will be their career peers), and develop relationships with professors and college staff (they can become great references!)
  7. Consider the student/teacher ratio. Maybe your child does well in a classroom with 300 students or maybe, like most others, they prefer a classroom with 30 or less to maintain focus.
  8. Take a tour of the college. Is it a place where your child would like to be? Can he or she see him- or herself there daily.
  9. Make sure the school is accredited. There are over 100 accrediting organizations for schools. Each one requires the schools to perform according to their standards of excellence. Don’t confuse accreditation with transferability of credit. Transfer credits will depend on the receiving institution. For example: If your child is an electronics major and then transfers to another college for medicine, you can expect those electronics classes will not transfer.
  10. Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride. Your child is becoming an adult and it’s a wonderful thing to witness. Consider it a privilege.

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What is most important to you in deciding which college to attend?

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By Liza Lugo, J.D.

(c) 2012, Revised 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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