7 ways to choose a college
(MoneyWatch) Do you know where you're going to be attending college in the fall?
Time is running out for the fence sitters. Many colleges and universities require an answer and a deposit by May 1. For those still agonizing about a decision, here are seven ways to help make that important decision:
1. Compare financial aid packages. If you don't have the money, it can be financial suicide to attend a school that requires borrowing large amounts of money. Ideally, you'll want to limit your borrowing to federal students loans, including the Stafford Loan. If you have trouble deciphering your financial aid awards, read this post: The end of confusing financial aid awards.
2. Talk with students. If you're visiting the campus, make sure you ask some students these questions:
-- What do you like about your school?
-- What don't you like about your school?
-- What attracted you to this school?
-- Would you pick this school again?
-- What would you change about your school if you could?
If you can't visit a campus, ask the school to connect you with students by phone, chat or email.
3. Read student opinions online. You can also get a feel for what current students think by heading to the websites of College Prowler and Unigo. These popular sites serve up lots of unvarnished opinions that students post about their schools.
4. Decide between colleges and universities. There are significant academic differences between attending a college and attending a university. Unfortunately, Americans tend to use the words interchangeably. Here is a post that explains the key differences: Do you know the difference between a college and a university?
5. Check graduation rates. Most students do not graduate with a bachelor's degree in four years. You can find the four-year grad rates of the schools remaining on your list by visiting College Results Online.
6. Assess how happy the freshman are. You can find out how many freshmen stuck around for their sophomore year at College Results Online or by heading to the federal College Navigator. Here is post about why it's smart to look at freshman retention rates: 26 colleges with the happiest freshmen
7. Inquire about graduation requirements. It's important to know what the general education requirements of a school are. Are you going to be required to take math or science classes or writing courses? My son Ben decided against one college because it required four classes in a language. That was a nonstarter for him.
University of Chicago image courtesy of Flickr user Imgadelha.
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