- Colleges and Universities: Choosing the Right Fit
- Identifying basic colleges and universities criteria
- Cost, scholarships, and financial aid
- 6 Signs You Might Want to Transfer Colleges
- 1. Your ambitions have changed
- 2. You switched majors (and it didn't help)
- 3. The structure isn't “you.”
- 4. You feel homesick. A lot
- 5. You're having a tough time making friends
- 6. You crave independence
- How Do You Know When a College Is a “Perfect Fit?”
- “Good Schools”: Are They a Thing?
- What Is College Fit?
- How to Find the Right College
- Finding Generous Schools
- Does Every Student Need College? Five Alternatives to College
- Does Everyone Need to Go to College?
- 1. Join an Apprenticeship Program
- 2. Train to Take Over a Small Business
- 3. Take Free Online Classes
- 5. Join the Military
- What if Traditional College Is Just Not Right For Me Right Now?
Colleges and Universities: Choosing the Right Fit
The overall culture of your college may play as big a role in your future success as your degree. Figuring out what’s important to you in a college will help you narrow the field when choosing the right fit, and you may discover some options that hadn’t even been on your radar!
Identifying basic colleges and universities criteria
Starting your college search with the basics will help you identify the colleges that will best suit you academically and personally. Each of us has unique needs and values, and what is important to you may not matter to someone else. Take location, for instance.
If you don’t want to be more than 100 miles from home, then schools on the other side of the globe are out! The same goes for school size, cost, and other basic college criteria.
By identifying your needs early on, you can eliminate hundreds of schools and focus on the things that will make your school a perfect fit.
Obviously, academics play a huge role in determining the right school for you. But so does location.
Where do you want to study? Is year-round sunshine a must for your mental health, or does the call of the winter ski season require a more diverse climate? Perhaps you hope to compose essays in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, or maybe you prefer the comforts of home. College is both an education and a journey, so consider what type of location you hope to experience when exploring college information.
You should also consider the ambience of your surroundings when choosing a college. If you can’t live without nightlife, think city! If you’re into the great outdoors, you might want to go rural. There are colleges in every environment you can imagine, from tiny towns in Minnesota to the middle of Manhattan.
If you’ve always lived in the suburbs, an urban campus can be an adventure.
But after a few weeks, will you yearn for grassy fields and open space? On the other hand, if you’re used to malls and movie theaters and choose a college in a rural area, will you be racing into the student center at midnight, desperately seeking noise, lights, and people? When examining the options in a college guide, think about where you grew up and how much of a change you want.
Don’t forget to consider the sizes of the schools in your college search. Colleges come in all sizes, from a school in California that enrolls only 26 students to a university Penn State that can enroll 30,000 or more. Which one is better? That depends on you.
- Did you go to a small high school or a large one?
- Did you grow up in a city or a rural area?
- Do you being places where everybody knows you, or do you the anonymity of a crowd?
Large schools typically have large campuses, as well as a healthy selection of student services and things to do; a small college may offer individualized attention, as well as a more intimate and personalized experience. You might even want to think about how far you want to walk to get from one class to another. Even those little details of college info may affect your decision.
The different types of schools on your list can often be overlooked when you’re considering college criteria, but you should keep in mind that all colleges and universities are not the same.
- What do they devote time and resources to: research or teaching and learning?
- Do they have a speciality in one specific area or are they known for providing a broad education?
- Are they single sex or coed?
- Do they have a religious affiliation?
- Are they public or private?
There are also historically Black colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions, schools with co-op programs, and many with large evening and part-time programs.
A college guide typically provides important facts about each school’s type and characteristics.
Your options are almost limitless and your personal learning style, preferences, and available resources will help you find the place where you’ll best succeed.
Cost, scholarships, and financial aid
The cost of college is one thing that most parents think about during the college search process. Not all colleges and universities have the same price tag and there are a variety of ways to cut your costs. Most schools offer financial aid, scholarships, and work-study programs, aside from student loans.
Consider your special talents outside of the classroom. You may qualify for a full ride if you can carry a tune or a football (or both), while making the grade. Even if you don’t get a full ride, every little bit helps.
Public universities often offer much lower tuition rates to in-state students, but their fees to out-of-state residents are usually similar to private schools. Private institutions charge everyone the same tuition, but they often have privately-funded scholarships, so it’s worth applying even if the price tag seems too high.
A school’s tuition isn’t necessarily the exact amount you’ll pay, because it doesn’t reflect financial aid or extra expenses housing and books. But it’s still wise to check out tuition figures when considering college information, as it may expand or diminish your options, depending on your financial situation.
Need help getting started on your college search? Search by location, major, admission difficulty, and more with Peterson’s College Search
6 Signs You Might Want to Transfer Colleges
You’ve hit a wall. For whatever reason, you’re just not clicking with your college of choice, and you find yourself thinking that you’re not in the right place, repeatedly. Sometimes college just isn't what you thought it would be.
Coming to the realization you made the wrong decision is tricky, and many people are wary of taking the next dramatic step: transferring colleges. Maybe you’re worried about other people's opinions or that you’ll disappoint your friends or family, or perhaps your concerns are financial. It could be that you’re stressed over the thought of delaying your eventual graduation.
These are legitimate concerns, but there are also equally compelling reasons for leaving a school you no longer feel a healthy relationship with. Below, you’ll find six of the top signs that your current school is no longer the right fit, as culled from inquiries we’ve received from students who once found themselves in your shoes. Read on to learn more.
1. Your ambitions have changed
Here’s what you need to understand: It’s okay to change your mind about what you want in life. That’s a pretty big decision to make, and not every student will find the final answer to be clear-cut.
You’re not the same person you were back when you were deciding in high school which college you wanted to attend. College is as much about finding your path in life as it is going to class and discovering a career path.
You're bound to do a lot of self-discovery right now, and that's great.
When you realize you chose the wrong major, think about what you do want.
What does the “right major” look to you? Meet with an academic advisor, talk with your family and look within yourself to get an idea of what your future career could look .
Or at least, consider what you're passionate about and go from there — even if that means leaving the college that can no longer provide you with what you want. Transferring could help get you on the right course.
2. You switched majors (and it didn't help)
Okay, so you switched to something that will suit you better (or so you think) … but you still feel uneasy and unsure of everything. Keep in mind, some students switch majors several times before landing on the right one.
If you're at the wrong college, however, no amount of changing majors will make that feeling go away. Instead, try researching schools that have exactly what you're looking for, or at least have the potential to cater to your needs better.
Sometimes being at the right school will open lots of doors to career paths you may not have ever considered. That's a big sign you've made the right decision.
3. The structure isn't “you.”
Did you get incredibly excited when you toured a university but once you arrived there, you were treated just another number? Not all colleges are created equal, especially in how they approach their interactions with students. Some colleges and universities provide a supportive environment that encourages regular meetings with counselors, extensive tutoring services and career resources that will help land you a job.
The structure of some larger colleges isn’t for everyone and can actually work against many students. If you feel you’re getting lost in the shuffle, then by all means, you should begin to look elsewhere.
4. You feel homesick. A lot
Homesickness is completely normal, and everyone has felt it at some point. There is a difference between normal homesickness and homesickness that has an affect on your mental health, grades and relationships.
If you find yourself jealous of friends and classmates on social media having a great time living their college life, something is wrong. When it gets to this point, it might be time to consider a transfer.
There's no shame in wanting a better college experience and finding the right place for you.
5. You're having a tough time making friends
If you're from a small town attending a city school (or vice-versa), of course there will be a period of adjustment during your freshman year. Introverts, especially, will have a harder time making friends and reaching out in unfamiliar surroundings.
Remember, few people go into college and feel they fit in right away; this may take time but if you're still feeling place after a year or so, maybe a change of scenery is in order.
Different universities and colleges have certain cultures, so maybe the one you chose isn't the right decision.
6. You crave independence
Every college students looks forward to being out on their own and managing their own life and schedules. But maybe you've found that you're actually too close to home (let's call this the opposite of homesickness).
There's nothing wrong with living at home (financially, it's usually a smart move) or attending school in your hometown, but you may feel you need to be away from your parents and other familiar faces so you can begin anew.
A variety of hindrances could present themselves during the course of your college tenure, and ultimately, it’s up to you to figure out when the time is right to make a move.
In small doses, none of the above is a deal breaker, but if you get to the point where you dread walking out the door to go to class, a change will be necessary.
A transfer and potential move to a new place may sound daunting now, but you'll thank yourself when you have your dream career and can look back fondly on your college experience.
If you’re thinking of making a transfer but don’t know where to start, download our Transferring Credits Checklist, which provides a quick reference to the ducks you’ll need to get in a row when switching to a new college.
How Do You Know When a College Is a “Perfect Fit?”
With thousands of colleges and universities to choose from, finding the “perfect” school is a seemingly impossible task for any high school student and their parents.
Many college hopefuls have their eyes set on a particular dream school, while others may feel overwhelmed by endless options varying in size, location, reputation, and expense.
Applying to and gaining acceptance to colleges is daunting enough, let alone deciding where to attend in the fall.
So how exactly do you make the right decision?
Keep in mind that the true secret to college success is not necessarily attending the most selective or prestigious university.
It’s finding the right school for you where you can be your best self. And much with dating or job-hunting, there is no one-size-fits-all college, but instead, a number of potential great picks for every individual student.
“Good Schools”: Are They a Thing?
When we think of “good schools,” we may think of the most prestigious, most selective, or even the schools with the most successful alums in the field we wish to major in.
Ivy League schools are often the first thing that come to mind when Americans think of “best colleges,” as are a number of small, highly selective, and highly-ranked colleges and universities.
However, if a student decides to attend a school for the perceived prestige alone – ignoring their own gut feelings and instincts about the campus culture and how they’d fit into it – they could very well end up unhappy even among the nation’s “best colleges.”
What is considered “best” is highly subjective.
Are “good schools” really even a thing?
Yes and no.
Student-to-teacher ratio, quality of instructors, retention rate, graduation rate, diversity of courses offered, and quality of housing and student life are all important factors to take into account for any college hopeful.
But what makes a school “good” is up to the individual student and their unique experiences, hopes, and dreams for their life in college.
This also raises the question: do “bad schools” exist?
Certainly, some schools have their share of administrative issues and lack of resources. Those are all things you can usually determine through speaking with current students and doing a little research into what the school offers.
But there is no “bad school,” and what works for one person may not for another, no matter the school’s reputation or price tag.
According to the Department of Education, about 25 percent of all students who start at a four-year public or private institution transfer at some point, regardless of academic quality.
For instance, high school senior Amber might initially decide to attend College A because of its proclaimed prestige, but later, she ends up transferring to State School B for a bigger student body and a more affordable tuition and living situation. For Amber, College A wasn’t a “bad school,” but it wasn’t really a “good fit” for her.
wise, Josh might feel pressured to attend State School C because it is affordable and close to home, but knows deep down that the slightly pricier College D is the school where he would have the best quality of life and get the most personal, one-on-one interaction with faculty he admires.
Some students want to be a big fish in a small pond in a sleepy college town, while others crave an exciting city life at large research university with endless opportunities and internship possibilities.
As you can see, there is really no such thing as a “good” or a “bad” school, but rather, a “good college fit” for each person.
What Is College Fit?
Some students describe knowing that a college was right for them after visiting a campus and having a gut feeling that they’ve found their home away from home.
However, that instant love connection doesn’t happen for everyone, and not everyone can feasibly visit every school on their list in person.
What makes a “good college fit” varies by individual.
If a college has everything you need to succeed and have an enjoyable four years, including a location you , an atmosphere you find welcoming, a price tag you can afford, and academics that challenge you, it is more than ly a good fit for you.
For some students, location is key.
I wanted a city school that would let me immerse myself in local opportunities, and once I found the University of Pittsburgh, I knew that the variety of courses, programs, and opportunities made Pitt a good fit for me.
Plus, I loved the campus and felt at home while visiting!
I had transferred from a smaller liberal arts college where I also felt challenged, but the size of the school and location made it a “bad fit” for me even though it was a good school.
No matter which way you end up going, rest assured that when it comes to picking a good college, the only “wrong” decision is choosing a school that isn’t a “good fit.”
And don’t stress, because even if you end up choosing “wrong,” transferring is always a perfectly reasonable option!
How to Find the Right College
So, how exactly do you decide on schools that would be a good college fit for you? Start by narrowing down your list to a select number of colleges that you can see yourself succeeding at academically, emotionally, and even spiritually.
With each college on your list, ask yourself questions :
- Would I be comfortable living in student housing and enjoying the food offered? (This is more important than you might think!)
- Does the school offer my preferred major, a curriculum that I find interesting, and a faculty that inspires me? Spend some time reading about the faculty and their accomplishments, as well as course offerings on the school’s official website. Email current students and ask about their experiences.
- Does the school offer the kind of activities I am interested in and enough of them to keep me busy throughout the week? Are the kinds of clubs, sports, volunteer opportunities and organizations I value represented here?
- Is the school’s location somewhere I can see myself being content living in for all four years? Does the area offer enough things to do that I find enjoyable, and/or internship and job opportunities that I can easily take advantage of? Do I the climate and weather, and/or could I easily adjust? If religious, are there available centers for worship and/or organizations to join? Does the college’s mission align overall with my moral values?
- Does this school offer solid study abroad programs and would they be easily accessible for me while I’m a student?
- Do I see myself fitting in overall and making friends and connections with the other students who attend this school? If visiting the campus, do I the students I’ve met? Do they seem friendly, happy, and social?
- Does the school offer solid financial aid packages, merit and need-based scholarships, and/or tuition that I can afford or take out reasonable loans for? Are helpful financial counselors available to me?
- Would I be proud to wear a sweatshirt emblazoned with the school’s logo and someday call myself an alumnus?
There are no right or wrong answers, and you might be surprised to answer “no” to some of these questions regarding a few of your top choices!
Keep in mind that no school will ever be perfect, and college life really is what you make of it.
Keeping all of these questions in mind, however, will help ensure that you have the best experience possible.
Looking for some helpful resources when it comes to building your list and making it as perfect and easy to navigate as possible?
Finding Generous Schools
While many colleges could very well be a good fit for your student, it can be a struggle to sort through the thousands and thousands of colleges that are out there. Sometimes you just need help.
We can help you sort through schools that work for your family.
We have resources to choose the most generous schools regarding financial aid, as well as helping you discover the academic and social details of each college.
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Does Every Student Need College? Five Alternatives to College
Although college is considered by some to be the traditional path after high school, it is far from your only option. In fact, in some cases college isn’t the right fit or the best choice following high school. If you’re considering options to pursue after your high graduation that don’t include college, you won’t want to miss our breakdown of five great alternatives.
Does Everyone Need to Go to College?
While college might seem the obvious choice, not every high school grad needs to go to college, and there are many instances in which college isn’t the best choice.
For one thing, college is extremely expensive for lots of families. If you aren’t sure you want to go or you don’t think it’s necessary for your chosen career path, you can save a lot of money by not enrolling in college.
Other students are simply not academically prepared for college and choose to take a break or leave academics behind entirely. After all, there are lots of good careers that don’t require a college diploma.
In fact, vocations and trades are often better pursued through technical or vocational schools.
These routes can still result in great earning potential with at a smaller price and less significant time commitment than college.
Finally, some students just don’t thrive in the traditional educational environment. For some, high school may have been a challenge, but college would represent a long and difficult path that comes with a hefty price tag.
The good news is that if college isn’t the right fit for you, there are still plenty of other options available.
1. Join an Apprenticeship Program
This route is especially prevalent in careers manufacturing, welding, or plumbing.
When your career path relies on hands-on skills, the best way to learn is often by shadowing a professional and absorbing all you can. This is possible through apprentice programs and these careers are projected to have solid job security.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of construction and extraction occupations is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, creating approximately 747,600 new jobs.
Among the highest earning options are plumbers, electricians, building inspectors, and boilermakers.
2. Train to Take Over a Small Business
For many students who follow this route, it’s a family affair, but you don’t need to inherit a business to make this a reality.
If you have been involved in a company or other small business as a summer job or simply know the owners closely, you may be able to start at an entry level position and work your way up steadily to management.
Sometimes, if an owner is aging, he or she may be looking for young talent to carry the baton once he or she retires.
While this option isn’t as sure a thing as an apprenticeship, it can be a good route for a graduate who wants to pursue a more white collar career without a college education.
3. Take Free Online Classes
Just because you don’t enroll in college, that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue higher learning. There are many options for free online classes if you want to grow your knowledge without the commitment of college.
Consider online programs the Lambda School or another “bootcamp” that offers an accelerated pathway to a solid job, typically in a field programming.
At the Lambda School, you take computer programming and coding classes online for nine months and pay nothing until you land a job that pays at least $50K annually. Then, Lambda takes a % of your salary to repay your debt.
Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) “Udacity” and those offered through Harvard, MIT, and Microsoft can open up more varied paths, though your ultimate career choices may be limited if your job application is competing against those who do have a college career. Still, taking free online classes in areas computer science or engineering might be enough to gain the knowledge necessary for a job in IT.
Trade school is a solid alternative to college and a good compromise between college and an apprenticeship. Trade schools tend to be less expensive than a four-year degree and often lead to well-paying jobs because they foster many practical skills.
This could include anything from fixing cars, to manufacturing and welding.
Additionally, un in an apprenticeship, the skills learned in trade school are not tied to a specific company’s procedures and approach, so they are more broadly transferable to more jobs.
Despite their discounted ticket price, trade schools are still sometimes expensive and many have even proven to be scams.
In general, you should never take out loans for trade school or join a trade school at a for-profit college.
Even if the school is completely legitimate, your earning potential is capped by your job prospects and it could take you a long time to pay off any student debt.
5. Join the Military
For students who are in good physical condition and are willing to enlist, the military can offer a lot of benefits. These include a stable paycheck and free food and housing early in one’s career. After retirement, you can expect a substantial pension and VA loans that promote the ability to buy a house without a down payment.
Other benefits include health insurance for the enlisted person and their family, 30 days of paid leave per year and discounted vacation resorts worldwide, and substantial education benefits if you do choose to attend college later via the GI Bill, college reimbursement plans, and others.
Of course, joining the military isn’t a decision to be taken lightly and there are some significant challenges you should consider before enlisting. First, the physical requirements are difficult and you’ll need to commit to keeping yourself in top physical shape.
In addition, the command structure forces you to follow orders without question and includes laws governing your personal life, including things deciding when you can get married, whether you can ride a motorcycle, and how you practice personal grooming.
Finally, one cannot quit the military, so enlisting is something you need to take very, very seriously. You must either serve out your contract or face jail time.
In addition, it should go without saying that there are significant concerns related to serving in the military. You could be stationed far away from friends and family for extended times, and you could even face combat in a war zone. You need to carefully weigh the pros and cons as they relate to you personally before enlisting in the military.
What if Traditional College Is Just Not Right For Me Right Now?
If college doesn’t seem a good fit for any reason at the moment, there’s no reason to rush into it. It’s still possible to go back to school later in life, and many colleges are now developing supports specifically for non-traditional learners who are returning to college. You might consider taking a gap year while you decide on your next step, or attending a community college.
You can learn more about these options and the potential benefits or disadvantages in our posts Should You Take a Gap Year? and Should I Go to Community College?
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