Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Guest Post: What to Look for in a University

The Semi Organic Mom's Note:  It's never too early to start thinking about college.  Bug has a 529, and we are in the process of setting up one for Cat.  Here are some tips for those of you who are closer to that next step than we are: 

College is right around the corner for many high school juniors and seniors. It can be daunting to pick out the place where you will spend the next four (or more) years, and there are so many things to factor in, from cost to program of study. However, there are basic guidelines you should follow when applying and finally picking your university. Pay attention to this list to help find the best fit for you.

1) Do Your Research
You should research the school’s reputation to get an idea of what it would be like to learn there. The Princeton Review issues a wonderful list each year ranking the top schools in the U.S. They cover everything from partying to professors. Use this guide as a way to discover more about any school you are interested in attending. Is it a research school, or does it have a strength in the performing arts, or the hard sciences? Are you happier to focus on just the things you like, or do you want a well-rounded education that’s flexible if you change your major down the road (and almost everyone does)?

2) Alumnae Success
Ask the school what percentage of recent alumnae have found jobs soon after graduation. You do not want to attend a school that does not prepare you for your adult life. If a school has a poor student-work rate, then you may want to consider the reasons why. Get in touch with the professors in your department and also speak with representatives from the Office of Admissions.

3) Location, Location, Location!
You will be spending at least four years at university. You at least want to make sure that you that you like the area surrounding the school. Are you a city person or do you love the beach? Do you want to live in party town where everything revolves around your school, or a bigger environment, where you can experience more outside of college life?

4) Student Life
Perhaps the single most important thing at a university is the quality of student life. This means everything from cafeteria food, professor quality, clubs, sports, to even the students themselves. Basically anything that will affect your life while at school is earmarked under this category. For example, is the student government, staff and faculty receptive to the well being of the students? Is there any diversity at all (and don’t just base this on pictures in the brochures)?

5) Living Situations
Check out the dorms and apartments in the area. Note if they are new, spacious or affordable. Also, note whether it’s a commuter campus (does everyone go home on the weekends?). How soon do you have to move off-campus, and is rent a racket?

6) Programs of Study
Find out what programs your school is known for. A quality school will have many ranked programs, not just one or two. The best schools have highly ranked programs all over the spectrum, from biology to cinema to political science. Also, look for the number of foreign languages available. If a school offers more than a couple dozen, you will likely have nothing to worry about. If they only offer Spanish, French & German, you’ll probably be in trouble.

7) Cost versus Scholarships

This may very well be your deciding factor, and there’s nothing wrong with that. When it comes down to it, if a school has not offered you a decent financial aid package, do not go. The economy is bad and there are no guarantees in life. You do not want to be a hundred thousands dollars in debt as a young graduate. You can always ask a school to give you a better package if a similar school has offered a more competitive one. Do everything you can to get as much money as possible. Average debt for an undergrad is around 30k, but that doesn’t mean you have to match that.

Overall you need to feel comfortable at a university. Visit the campus and sit in on a class. Talk to students how the feel about the university. Trust your instinct and you will end up having the best four years of your life!

Marissa Tyler writes about parenting, saving money & frequenting www.homeinsurance.org.

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