How do you know which colleges to visit? When? What to do? Here's how to choose the right college amidst fierce competition and rising costs and how to determine the ROI (return on investment) of a college education.
Huge numbers of students and families are visiting colleges now as the pressure to get into excellent colleges is extremely high. All the same, college tuition costs are growing quickly.
1. How to know which colleges to visit? In recent years, a record number of students have been applying to colleges across the country. Added to continuously rising tuition, the competition for acceptance to choice colleges is fierce. It is more critical than ever for students to investigate the "right" colleges to find the ones that best suit their interests, abilities, and financial constraints. This is an important time of year for high school students to visit colleges with their families. They can examine first-hand if a particular college environment meets their criteria on academic, cultural, personal and social levels. When deciding which colleges to visit, examine yourself as a prospective college student there. What are your academic abilities and strengths? What is the colleges program like in your field of interest (i.e. journalism, humanities, engineering, business, nursing etc)?
Research college websites from which you can learn about curriculum, areas of specialty, activities and even arrange to attend upcoming events taking place at that school.
Consider the campus setting/environment. Do you want a large or small campus? Rural or urban? Energetic or low key? Athletic? What are the criteria that really appeal to you? Make a list of priorities.
Consider size of the student body. Will a large student body challenge you to excel or will you thrive in a smaller, more intimate environment?
Financial Aid. An assortment of scholarship packages is offered by most colleges to many students who show the financial need.
2. When should a student start visiting colleges?
Starting the college visitation process as early as 9th grade is essential given the stakes and array of choices. Since admissions requirements and deadlines vary a great deal among colleges, getting an early start is a must. A student needs to see colleges and prepare early to increase their chances of being competitive at their colleges of choice.
3. What to do when you visit colleges:
Get an overall view of the college through a campus tour and information session.
Explore the college on your own for a better picture of what the college has to offer:
- Sit in on classes, particularly those in which you may want to major.
- Schedule time to meet with professors (set up appointments ahead of time).
- Talk to current students about the school and campus life. Ask the students if they would attend the same college again
- Experience eating in the college dining hall.
- Spend time in the student center or other high-traffic areas to help envision yourself as part of the community.
- Take the time to visit key areas of personal interest such as arts programs, musical programs, sports activities, school newspapers, clubs, etc.
- Can you envision yourself living on this campus? Are you comfortable with the "spirit‟ of the campus setting, its size and, its location. Does it feel like a good "fit."
4. Paying for college
- How to make a great college "fit" as affordable as possible
Applying for financial aid is a very important part of the process for many people. Also, colleges often have applications for merit scholarships. Close attention to deadlines is very important. It is important to be aware that there can be a huge tuition difference among colleges that are private, in state and out of state.
5. Examine job prospects of graduates from particular colleges and look at the return on investment of certain majors.
By keeping these points in mind and taking the time to research and prepare for college visits, students and their families will get a more comprehensive idea about the college and if it is a good "fit for the student.
In addition a student and family can better learn the steps needed to maximize admissions chances.
Start early. Start smart.