college choice

Top 5 College Choice Tips

Thousands of people are looking at college acceptances this month and trying to decide where to go. Based upon my 25 years of experience studying higher education, here are my top 5 tips.

  1. Cost

    Look very carefully at your financial aid letter. Make sure that you understand how much you are getting in actual aid versus loans they expect you to take out versus the costs they expect you to pay outright. If you are unsure about what the language means, then ask or look for help. And remember to factor in costs of travel to and from school.

    About 1 in 5 students get into their first choice, but decide that it is just too expensive to go there. That’s an OK choice. My research has shown that students who attend their second, third, or fourth choice can be just as satisfied with their freshman year as students who go to their first choice.

    And it turns out that what matters more than where you go to school is what you do when you are there. You don’t need to make great financial sacrifices to have a great college experience.

  2. Graduation Rate

    Not many people know this, but about 1 in 4 students do not return for their sophomore year. And, on average in the US, only about 2 out of 3 actually make it and graduate from that school. This also varies a lot from school to school. You can use the College Navigator website to find out the percentage of students who graduate and see how the schools you are looking at do in this. You want to maximize your chances of getting that diploma!

  3. Major

    Make sure that the school you are looking at actually has the major you are thinking about. At one of the colleges I worked at every year we would get students arriving who were ready to major in business. But we did not offer a business major! Look through the majors and see, and while you are there look at other majors that are offered, as many students end up changing their major by graduation.

  4. Location

    Some people want to go to college close to home, and others want to go as far away as they can get. Regardless, think about things like rural versus suburban versus an urban location. If you are from a big city and think it might be fun to experience the country, think again about if you would really like that much of a change while also trying to balance all the other things a college student needs to balance. Think about climate. It can get pretty cold (or hot) some places.

  5. Fit

    How did you feel when you visited the school? Saw the students there? A campus visit can be very important to help you figure out if this school is right for you, as I have previously posted. If you absolutely cannot visit, talk with students in your area who go to school there and try to find out as much as you can online about the culture at the school.

Obviously there are other things to consider, but these are good places to start when you are making this choice. And, finally, relax. Most colleges and universities are really great places to learn and live!

Good luck! It’s going to be great!


What Influences College Choice?

Choosing a college involves many factors, such as cost, location, and the academic reputation of the institution. Increasingly important to people going to college for the first time, however, is the college visit. According to the newly released 2017 CIRP Freshman Survey results, 47.3% of students who entered college in the fall of 2017 indicated that the campus visit was very important in their decision about where to go. Although not the reason given by the most students (that the college had a very good academic reputation, at 65.6%), the college visit shows an increasing importance, rising from 37.6% just 15 years ago.

What is it about the college visit that makes it so important to almost half of college freshmen? Research by Longmire and Company indicates two factors: getting a “feel” for the campus, and how welcoming and friendly the current students seem.

Prospective students look for a college that seems to be a good fit for them.

In addition to being important in college choice, the importance of the college visit and this concept of “fit” is connected to retention. Research I conducted when directing the CIRP survey program indicated that students who placed high importance on the campus visit were also more likely to return to that college for the sophomore year.

Given that close to 1 in 4 students do not return for their sophomore year, the importance of determining a fit between the applicant and the college is paramount. Admissions materials that portray a glossy and idealized campus life might get students in, but if after attending the promises turn out to be hollow then we should not be surprised that some students do not return. Especially with college costs as high as they are.

What else do incoming students consider? First and foremost, as we found for years at CIRP, students go to college to be able to get a better job than they otherwise might (84.9%) and 55.7% of students choose their college because they believe that graduates from that school get good jobs.

This is not to say that this is all that is important: 83.6% also report that they are going to college in order to learn more about things that interest them.

What is not important? College rankings. For many years, 2017 included, few (17.9%) students tell us that this was important in their choice of where to go.

Expectations of college are high. Students more and more want to get that better job, to learn more about things that interest them, and to get into good graduate schools. Higher education needs to be aware of these expectations and, especially given the high costs of college and the increasing student debt loads, be able to demonstrate that they are meeting these expectations. Our student deserve no less.