Friday, August 2, 2013

What not to overlook when evaluating colleges


Choosing where to further their education after high school is one of the biggest decisions your child will make in life, which is why it is important to look closely at each college or university they are interested in attending.

While the decision is ultimately a personal one, here are a few suggestions of things you and your son or daughter may want to consider in the evaluation process.

Student/faculty ratio
One common adjustment for incoming students is the change in class sizes. Some college courses have larger populations than many rural towns across the country. The proportion of students to faculty in a classroom is often seen as a reflection of the intimacy of the educational experience. While there may be some truth to this theory, it is important to realize that the student/faculty ratio can also be easily misinterpreted.  The concept of smaller class sizes equaling a better educational experience may seem logical to some, others disagree, arguing that the quality of a student’s classroom experience can be attributed more to the individual professor and the student, rather than classroom population.  

Which camp of thought you side with is entirely your decision, but should you find yourself supporting the former theory (smaller class sizes equals a better educational experience) than you will want to investigate the student/faculty ratio of the schools your child wishes to attend.

Sticker price
What is the first word that comes to mind when you hear “college expenses”? For many, the answer is tuition. Tuition is undoubtedly the greatest expense of obtaining a higher education, but it is certainly not the only one. Student fees, text books, housing, meal plans and more all add to the total “sticker price” of your college experience.  

There is no lack of online resources when it comes to researching universities with the greatest value. Utah State University has been included on the lists of many different prominent publications. In fact, USU recently found itself on Forbes list for Best Value Colleges of 2012. Take a look and see where we rank.

Financial aid opportunities
It’s no secret that higher education is expensive, which is why it’s important to find out what type of financial aid is available at the colleges in which you’re interested. In addition to federal aid, many institutions will have their own scholarship opportunities. Be sure to do your research and find out which of those scholarships may apply to your son or daughter. For more information on where to find options to help pay for their education, take a look at our financial aid blog post.

Clubs and activities
Your college experience wasn’t all about text books and classrooms, and your child’s shouldn’t be either. It’s important to get involved in different ways around campus. Joining clubs, organizations or intramural activities are some of the best ways to do just that. Their college experience will be far more positive, meaningful and fulfilling if they attach themselves to something they enjoy or believe in passionately. Take the time to see if the schools you’re investigating offer the extracurricular options you’re looking for in a university.

Location
Location. Location. Location. You’ve probably heard it far too many times, but there is truth behind the value of a good location. While the definition of a “good location” is almost entirely subjective, it does make a difference where a person goes to school. Do they have an affinity for the outdoors? Would they prefer a fast-paced city with a vibrant night life, or a quieter area with a strong sense of community?
After all, your kid is going to spend four or more years of their life there. It helps if they connect with the city in which they live during that time.

If you’re wondering how to find out more about college towns and whether they fit the lifestyle of your child, livability.com is a good place to start. Follow the link to see which locations they ranked as the top ten college towns in the country.

Alumni network
Alumni support is a vital element to any institution of higher education. A strong network of alumni can have a tremendous impact on the value of your child’s education and overall college experience. For example, alumni who are actively involved with their alma mater are more likely to engage with current students in mentoring programs, provide career opportunities, develop professional relationships with students and faculty, donate to university programs and projects that will affect your child and return to campus to share their professional experiences and advice with students.

Bottom line: when it comes to selecting a college, there are a lot of factors involved. Far more than what was covered in this list. Each decision is a personal one, and thankfully, there are a number of resources at your fingertips today that allow you to research and compare multiple schools at once. So be sure to decide what you’re looking for and take advantage of them.

1 comment:

Jillian Johnson said...

Thanks for sharing this! You offer a lot of useful advice. As a college grad I can say that choosing a college isn't an easy or fast decision to make. It's not just a matter of if the college has your major but how much it will cost, if you want to commute or live on campus, how far from home it is, what extracurricular activities and so forth. I live in Jersey and attended a private Catholic high school, so I even considered Catholic colleges in PA and Delaware as well as nonreligious schools. There's a lot to take into consideration so be careful in the selection process.