Picking a College
Selecting a college is an extremely personal and life-changing decision. Picking the right college means finding the perfect fit, allowing you to earn a degree in as short a timeframe as possible, at a cost that fits in your budget, while having some fun along the way. The wrong selection can mean transferring schools, losing credits, delaying graduation or worse. That being said, here are some pointers for comparing schools and finding the right one for you.
Focus on the End Result
Compile a list of potential colleges based on where you want to be four years from now. While you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do after you graduate college, having a general career path in mind is an important factor in finding the right fit. Resources like www.IHaveAPlanIowa.gov can help you find colleges that offer majors that interest you, match characteristics you find important in a college, and provide side-by-side college comparisons.
Always keep employability in the forefront of your college decision process. Check out career services available at your prospective colleges. Resources like career service centers, career fairs, on-campus recruiting, job search assistance and networking events can help you land internships, co-op programs, research opportunities and ultimately a job after graduation.
Listen to current students
Students who currently attend your prospective colleges can be a valuable resource when trying to find the right fit in a college. If you know someone who attends one of your potential schools, great! Ask them to tell you about their experiences. Make sure to discuss what they like about the college, what they dislike about the college, what made them choose the college, and if they’d choose to attend the college if they could do it over again.
If you don’t already know someone who attends each college, be sure to talk to current students during your campus visits. Your tour guide can be a good place to start, but also talk to students who aren’t part of the admissions team. If you have difficulty locating students for in-person conversations, check the internet for student comments or scoring on college comparison sites; even something as simple as a Google search can yield valuable information.
Check out Iowa College and University profiles
To help with the college selection process, Iowa College Aid provides specific information on each college and university in Iowa. Check out the Iowa College & University profiles for information such as admissions requirements, admissions and financial aid contacts, priority deadline filing dates, as well as links to each institution’s net price calculator and the College Navigator.
Net price calculators use financial information that you enter, along with institutional data, to provide you with an estimated net price at that college or university. Net price is the difference between the published price (full cost) to attend a specific college or university, minus any grants and scholarships for which you may be eligible. Net price makes it easier for you to compare estimated out-of-pocket expenses from one college to another.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics created the College Navigator to serve as a tool for students and families considering different colleges. Each College Navigator profile contains TONS of information about the college including campus setting, student population, retention and graduation rates, and student-to-faculty ratios. If you’re looking at more than one school, you can add each school’s profile to your “favorites” and compare them side by side.
Compare financial aid offers
While affordability shouldn’t be the only consideration in selecting a college, it should be a major factor. When you select an affordable school, you’re doing yourself a big favor by limiting the amount of debt you’ll incur which will translate to more of your income for other expenses after graduation.
If you’re deciding between multiple colleges, be sure to include them all when filing your FAFSA. In doing so, you ensure that all potential colleges will receive your financial information and have an opportunity to create a financial aid package for you. Your award letter will list the aid you’re offered from all federal, state and institutional (the college) programs if you enroll at that school. When reviewing the different award letters, be sure to look at the amount of gift aid (usually scholarships or grants) each school offers. Many schools will create financial aid packages that meet the entire cost of attendance using various loan programs to bridge the gap between the cost of attendance and the gift aid you receive. Pay close attention to the amount of aid that requires repayment and keep in mind you do not have to borrow the full amount of the loan being offered. A financial aid package that requires you to borrow the full cost of attendance is no bargain.
Make an educated decision
If after all your research and comparisons you are still undecided, take the time to go over the pros and cons of each choice. Review your on-campus tour notes, consider the strength of the academic program you’ve selected, and be rational about college costs and the amount of student loans you will need to borrow at each college. You’ll be spending YEARS at college, and even more years paying back student loans, so it’s important to know that your choice feels right to you.
By doing a little bit of research and comparison, you can feel comfortable about the college you choose and ensure you start off this new chapter of your life on the right foot.