The College Matchmaker

Should I Stay or Should I Go: How to Choose the Best College for You

Choosing the right school is essential for ensuring your educational success while working toward a rewarding career. However, the vast array of educational options can be overwhelming for a first-time student. While it may be hard to sort through the many differences between the different types of schools, it can be reassuring to know that once you do, you will be able to enjoy an educational plan that is tailored to your specific needs. Here is everything you need to know about the educational opportunities that await you—along with the unique attributes that each type of school can offer for your academic advancement.

Online vs. Traditional Campus
While traditional campuses still offer courses for students who prefer to actively participate in on-campus lectures, online education has opened up the doors of learning to students who once had to put their educational dreams on hold. According to CNN, this form of schooling has skyrocketed in recent years, due in part to the flexibility it offers students. Online college classes can be a great alternative for people who deal with hectic work or family schedules, or who appreciate the opportunity to work at their own pace. Says University of Phoenix President Laura Palmer Noone, regarding the growth in online schooling:

“Historically, higher education has taken a one-size-fits-all mentality: that if you want to get a degree, you must leave town, stop working, live in a dorm. But we are way past that. We have to be engaged in lifelong learning, especially if our society is to compete globally.”

As a general rule, both types of schools—online and in-class—offer rigorous courses of study that must meet the criteria for their degree programs. However, you will need to determine if you are comfortable learning online or if you prefer face-to-face classes. It is also important to note that some schools offer blended programs that might offer you the best of both worlds.

Two-Year College vs. Four-Year University
The type of degree or certificate that you would like to earn will also play an important role in the type of school that you select. Two-year colleges offer associate degrees that generally take two years to complete. Many of these schools are called community or junior colleges, and they may also offer vocational training programs in addition to their academic degrees. These schools often serve as a starting point for those who have yet to determine a major and plan to transfer to a four-year school later and those who only desire a career certificate. However, many people can find mid-level careers with just an associate degree. In fact, the Huffington Post reports that students with associate’s degrees may earn more during their first year out of college compared to those with a bachelor’s.

Alternatively, a four-year university will offer bachelor degree programs, and many offer opportunities to pursue post-secondary degrees as well. Many high-level careers require at least a bachelor’s, and students who do have an idea of what kind of career they would like to pursue should look into the education requirements to determine whether a community college or 4-year university is the right choice for them.

Public vs. Private Universities
When researching schools, you may notice that certain institutions are publicly funded while others are private, or for-profit, schools. According to the U.S. Department of Education, this simply means that state and local governments fund public universities while private ones operate independently. While this will not generally effect the level of quality concerning education, it can be an important factor to consider because for-profit school tuition will usually be the same for in-state and out-of-state students. Public universities may offer tuition at a lower rate to those who live in-state.

Vocational vs. Academic
Another important factor to consider when choosing your school is your field of study. If you will be focusing on a specific career, especially if it is hands-on, then a vocational school may offer the right course of study for your plans. Vocational and career schools generally teach exactly the skills one needs for their career. Health care, auto mechanics and computer technology are a few of the most common training programs offered in vocational schools. Academic degrees generally focus on a well-rounded course of study that is less hands-on yet can be applied across a broad range of careers.

Local vs. Out-of-State
Once you have begun to find several schools that fit your educational plans, you will need to decide if you prefer to stay at home or go to another state. This can be a challenging decision due to the many advantages offered by both types of educational opportunities. Staying at home can mean an easier transition to college life and in some instances, can offer you substantial tuition savings. However, out-of-state schools can offer you the chance to develop more independence and may be the only way to obtain the degree program you need. For those who are completely undecided, online programs can offer flexible options for attending an out-of-state school without leaving home.

Narrowing Down Your Options
To make your final decision, you will need to strategically go through each benefit offered by your choices of schools to narrow down your options. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, every student with prior education will want to make sure that any credits they have previously earned will be transferred to their new school. Those who have served in the military may also ask about how their time in service can be transferred to college credit. Then, you will want to find out about accreditation and financial aid options. Often, these final two factors can determine if a school that you have selected will be affordable and respected by future employers.

Taking the time to carefully weigh your options is the best way to ensure that you will be satisfied with your educational plan. Because pursuing higher education is a decision that will affect your future for many years to come, you will always want to explore every opportunity that is available. By taking the time to consider the type of school you prefer to attend along with its educational plans offered, you will be able to decide if you should stay local or pursue opportunities outside of your area that can broaden your horizons while offering substantial benefits for pursuing a degree that can boost your career.