10 Things to Consider When Choosing a University

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When it comes to choosing or rejecting a university, it's unfortunate that you only get experience to help you make the decision after you've had to live with the choice you made. In the case of returning students, they have a chance to make a list of pros and cons of any previous experiences; for first-timers, the whole situation is a lot more hit-and-miss.

Due to that, the topics covered here are in no particular order. Priorities vary widely. Commuter, boarder, young, old, first-timer, returning night student, all have a different reason for going to school and a different list of needs to be met. Keep in mind, though, that it can be educational to see how a school treats people in other situations than your own.

1) Does the school offer the degree program you're looking for?

This seems really obvious, but more than one student has tried (and failed) to cobble together an education in a school that doesn't emphasize what they want to learn. It's very difficult and can raise major problems later, particularly in cases of certification or licensing.

2) What's the average class size?

There will always be huge lecture classes at the college level, but for complex subjects it's best to be in a smaller class where there's time for discussion. Even large lecture classes can offer a lab or weekly study group. Small classes are particularly important in any subject that's difficult for you.

3) How helpful are career counselors, deans, professors, tutors, and other university staff?

How many hoops do you have to jump through in order to speak to one of them? Even if you think you'll never need help, isn't it best to have it there, just in case? You never plan to have trouble, after all. Can you drop by a professor's office and duck in to ask a quick question? Do they welcome you when you do that? Even if they just send you to a tutor, you should be able to reach all professors, deans, and counselors with minimal fuss.

4) What's the campus like?

Whether you're a full time student or just part time and commute, you're going to spend hours a week on the campus. Even lab rats are happier in nicer environments. Is it pleasant and green? Gray and crime-ridden? City? Country? It's something few people think of, and yet there it is, staring them in the face, every moment of their education. What's the food like? How close are off-campus services? How much does a cup of coffee cost?

5) What kind of reputation does the school have?

Getting a degree from a well-known institution can have a certain cachet, true, but will you need it? If you're in school purely for your own needs, it may be more trouble than it's worth. But a famous school's name on your law degree can open doors. You need to decide if the trouble and cost are worth the name.

6) How expensive is it? Is the expense deserved?

Will you get a first-class education on a lovely campus with attentive professors for the money shelled out, or does the cost seem unreasonable for the end result? Classes, particularly general education classes, are easily obtained elsewhere. Community and state colleges offer education for less. In many cases, they exist to offer general education and have streamlined the process and hired the best teachers for those jobs. You can always take your general education classes at a community college and then transfer to a large, well-known school to finish your degree. It's a great bargain.

7) What kind of distance are you looking at?

It can be an advantage for a teenager leaving home for the first time to have a little distance, though getting a semester's worth of clothes, books, and electronics from one side of the country to the other can be problematic. In the case of commuter students, travel time and expense can be an awful hidden cost.

8) What does the school feel like, on a purely social level? Is it friendly? Pleasant? Surly and depressing? What are the other students like?

Do the professors think they're superior, or are they friendly? There's far more to school than sitting in a classroom. Arrange a campus visit before enrollment, preferably a visit during the semester when the place is teeming with people. Photos in brochures never convey the reality of the campus, particularly not a campus full of people. The loveliest landscaping in the world can be awful if it's filled with nasty people.

9) How many registered students does the school have?

This has a huge impact on everything else. The larger the school, the better the odds that you'll get lost in the shuffle and be treated like a statistic. Anonymity can be good, if that's what you're looking for. What type of experience do you want?

10) What kind of parking is there, and what does it cost? And do you care?

If you're a boarding student with no car, it doesn't matter in the slightest. If you're a commuter student who just found out about a $500 parking permit, it matters a great deal. For anyone with a vehicle, security and safety in the lots should be a priority.

If at all possible, have a clear plan for your education, including what you want from it and what you plan to do with it. Those details can make choosing a school crystal clear. If you're picking up general education while trying to make up your mind what degree you want, try to keep your costs down and safety high. Good luck with your education.

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