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5 Steps to Selecting the Perfect College

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As summer fades into fall, students are returning from vacation and jumping into back-to-school mode. For incoming high school seniors, this means beginning the college decision-making process. The five steps below will ensure that you make the most informed decision when selecting your future alma mater.

With so many colleges and universities to choose from, finding the perfect college has become a complicated process. But before filling out applications, collecting reference letters from former professors and laboring over a personal statement letter, make sure to research not only the top colleges you're looking into -- but everything that comes with them.

Too often students get so wrapped up in one or two particular schools that they forget to take a step back and consider things like the cost of living of the city the university is located in or the percentage of students in a given college that have defaulted on their student loans.

The five steps below will help both simplify the college decision-making process and ensure the most informed decision.

Identify which job sectors will be growing when you graduate
College is all about planning; it's important to map out your four years in college and have a general idea of what you want to be doing after you graduate. Your plans and goals will likely change as you make your way through college, but it's important to have an idea of where you see yourself after graduation. When planning out your future, you should take into consideration what you're passionate about, what skills you have and what the market will look like after you graduate. Only you know what you're passionate about and where your strengths lie, but it's important to weigh that against the opportunities you will likely be faced with.

As reported by the US Department of Labor and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top five booming jobs that will see increases in the near future are:

1. Biomedical Engineers (72% increase)
2. Network Systems and Data Communications Analysts (53% increase)
3. Home Health Aides (50% increase)
4. Personal and Home Care Aides (46% increase)
5. Financial Examiners (41% increase)

Look for the right college for you, not the best college according to broad college surveys that don't help personalize the decision making process
There are many factors to consider when selecting a college; this includes location, tuition, degrees offered, acceptance rates, SAT averages, school size and any religious affiliations. Choosing a school simply because it ranks high on a broad-scale college rating report won't give you the ability to find the best fit for you. Do some research; ask friends, mentors and family members and once you've narrowed down your options, compare your top choices and make an informed decision.

Find out which of the schools you're interested in have low student loan default rates
As many university grads can attest, college flies by and oftentimes you're left with hefty student loans, rising interest rates but no job with which to pay them off. Make sure you ultimately select a school that has a low student default rate so that you'll likely be well prepared to join the workforce and pay off your loans.

According to a 2007 report by the US Department of Education, the following five schools had the highest rates of students defaulting on loans:

1. Columbia Centro Universitario, Puerto Rico (100%)
2. Brandon University, Manitoba (57%)
3. Weatherford College, Texas (50%)
4. George C. Wallace Community College (50%)
5. Oklahoma Technology Institute, Oklahoma (50%)

Calculate the cost of living of the city the university is located in, and make sure it's within your budget
Just because the tuition of a particular university is reasonable, doesn't mean the city you will be living in is. It's important to calculate the average costs of things like housing, healthcare, food and tax. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the five most expensive cities to live are:

1. Nassau-Suffolk, NY Metro (55% average in overall index)
2. Nantucket-Dukes, MA (53% above average)
3. Stamford-Norwalk, CT Metro (52% above average)
4. Westchester County, NY (49% above average)
5. Honolulu, HI (49% above average)

Assess the quality of life in the city where a particular school is based
Many incoming college freshmen live in on-campus housing their first year, but find their own housing for the remainder of their college years. Because of this, it's important to choose a city in which you'll feel safe and comfortable. Take into consideration factors like city crime rates, climate and open space ratings. The importance of these factors varies from person-to-person, but will play a large role in your college experience.