Most students apply to as many as three to seven schools. That's a lot of colleges to keep track of! The best way to narrow down your list of options is to determine ahead of time what is most important to you, and to get the answers to some important questions. Before you even begin contacting schools, you should find the answers to the following basic questions:
What’s the net price? Very few people pay the advertised sticker price of a college. Use the price calculator on the college’s website to better estimate exact costs for you. You can also visit the Net Price page on College Factual to get a quick idea of the actual prices students are paying at a particular school.
What kind of financial aid can I expect? Most students receive some sort of financial aid. You can find out how many students receive aid and the average amount they receive at the Financial Aid Page. This page will also tell you if most students are receiving scholarships and grants (a true discount), or loans (money you have to pay back!).
How many students stick around and actually graduate on time? Many students plan on graduating in four years, yet few do. Find out what the on-time and overall graduation rates are for your school of interest on the Graduation & Retention page.
Will I get much interaction with my professors? The more professors there are, the more interaction you will have with them. Find out what the Student to Faculty Ratio is for a good idea of how reachable your professors may be. This page will also tell you the makeup of full-time vs part-time teachers.
Can I get into this school? Find out what the average grades are of students who are accepted into this school, as well as how selective a college it is by checking the Entering Class Stats.
Does this school have my major? If you know what you want to study you should make sure the college offers a strong program in your subject of interest. If you don't know what you are going to major in yet, you should at least have an idea of a few different subjects that are possibilities. (Try Majors Matcher to discover a major that is a good fit for you based on your strengths and interests.)
Is this school accredited? Make sure your school of choice is accredited. Pay attention to whether the school is regionally accredited or nationally accredited. Both nationally and regionally accredited college can award degrees, but the credits from nationally accredited colleges will often not transfer to a regionally accredited school, which can limit a student’s options. Check the Accreditation Page for more information on this.
How many students are unable to pay back their loans? Students who have not made a payment on their loans for nine months are considered to be in default. The default rate of a college is a signal of students who are having a difficult time paying off their debt, either because they took on too many loans or they were not able to find a good-paying job after graduation (or both). This is an important metric to consider. The Loan Debt page is where you can see how a specific college compares to the average.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start. The answers to these questions should be easily available via the college’s website or other trusted sources.
Questions to Ask on a College Visit
There are a lot of questions you can't find the answers to just by looking at a website. After you've narrowed down your initial list of colleges, you’ll have to plan a visit to each campus and speak with administrators and admissions representatives to get a better idea if the college is right for you.
Here are just a few questions that need answers...
- How many graduates were employed full-time a year after graduating? Is a degree from this school valued highly by employers?
- How many students continue on to graduate school? Is the degree viewed highly from other academic institutions?
- How available are professors to meet with students outside of class? Do faculty members collaborate with students on research or other projects?
- What is the average grade students receive? (some colleges hand out a lot of 'easy A’s')
- What is the college’s policy on accepting credits from other universities? Will my credits transfer if I end up switching schools?
- Are there chances to study abroad or get involved in internships?
- What are the living situations like? What if I want to live off-campus or need a special living arrangement?
- Does this school offer support to meet my individual needs (international student, veteran, adult, student with learning disabilities, etc.)?
- Will I fit in here? Are there extra-curricular programs that interest me?
- How safe is this campus? Does the school offer easily accessible information on the amount of reported crime?
This is just a place to get started and a guide to help you make the right college choice. What other questions do you think are important to ask?
Ready to find the right college for you?