Many students and families labor for months over which college to choose, jumbling a variety of factors like “fit,” cost, size, location, professor-to-student ratio, etc.  We all know that attending Harvard as opposed to Podunk University will be more likely to bring you life benefits, regardless of cost.  On the other hand, research paints a very different picture than might be expected:

  • It really only makes a difference if you’re going to one of the top tier colleagues, like Ivy League or similar- and then it truly is worth the money.
  • Recent evidence shows that students do benefit from attending the most selective college they can get into in terms of future earnings (which may or may not be the more expensive option).  Selective colleges tend to provide a better value- not so much because of the quality of education per se, but more because their graduation rates tend to be higher.  A college’s graduation rate affects the chances that a given student will graduate.  Another benefit is the networking opportunities, skills, and connections that students get from attending a more selective school, especially if you are Hispanic, black, an immigrant, low-income, or had parents who did not graduate from college.  So, it’s about finding the fine balance between a school that’s cheap enough for you to afford either through tuition, financial aid, and/or scholarships, measured against your career path and intended major, the earning potential for that career, AND an institution that’s the most selective among your options.
  • It’s not just about going to college, it’s also about completing it.  Without that degree, it’s just debt.
  • Quality of life factors, such as location and on-campus amenities, are something to consider as they enhance your well  being in many ways, but they should not be the primary factors used in making your decision.
  • Click here to read more about this topic in another blog, Is College Really Worth the Money?

Choosing a college that best matches your chosen career path

Once you have selected your major, you are ready to choose a college.  Make sure that your major is available at the college you select.  Otherwise, move on to the next college.

When you choose your college, run your future salary and expected student loans through the Future Monthly Income Calculator (see Dashboard) to determine if your college investment is worth it or will leave you struggling financially after college. The Future Monthly Income Calculator is a simple tool that will show you how to determine your future salary and expenses.

Things to consider when matching a college to your career:

  • What is the graduation rate of students in your major?
  • Does the department that houses your major have a solid academic reputation?
  • Is there a formal internship program?
  • Does your major admit all students that apply or do you have to have a minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) to get in?  This is really important.  Many schools make students apply to the department after their first year.  If your GPA is too low, you may have to select a new major.
  • Is there a Career Services on campus and how accessible are their services?
  • What jobs do graduates of your chosen major end up having?
  •  What is the job placement rate for students in your major?
  • Who teaches the classes?  Teaching Assistants (often less experienced graduate students) or Professors?
  • How many faculty members are in your major?
  • Does the department emphasize theory, practice, or both?  Some departments emphasize theory with little to no practical application.  This is not beneficial if you intend to enter the job market right after your bachelor’s degree.  If you intend to go on to graduate school, this may be a good thing.  Whichever you decide, it’s a good question to ask faculty.
  • Are there any interactive events with potential employers?
  • How big of a role does technology play in the classroom and instruction?  Technology is too big to ignore.  Don’t get sucked into an institution that doesn’t prioritize technology.  Nowadays, it’s too pervasive in almost every field.
  • Are students free to concentrate in a particular area in the field?  For example, is it a general business administration degree or can you focus in marketing, accounting, finance, human resources, management information systems, or a combination of the preceding?
  • Are the faculty in this major accessible to students?  Do they have regular office hours?  Similarly, what is the faculty to student ratio?
  • Will you develop the necessary skills to enter the job market?  What do they consider those skills to be?
  • Are there computer labs where students can do their work?  Are they open to all students or just students in that major?  What are the hours for computer labs?
  • Is there a mentoring program that matches freshmen and sophomores with juniors and seniors?
  • Are there any student groups that are specifically related to that major?  For example, in the Media Studies Department (MSD), is there a Young Producers Association, MSD Student Association, or other student group?
  • How many of your students successfully complete your program?

These are only a few of the questions you would want to ask a prospective department representative.  There may be other “major/career related” questions that are also important.  For example, in biology you may ask, “Do you have a working lab where students can participate in current research?” or “How many of your students go on to medical school?”  You can see that you need to be your own best advocate and to be extremely proactive. Get started early and don’t stop until all of your questions are answered.

Amy Quinde is the owner and founder of Head & Heart International, a unique educational consulting & curriculum company with an overarching goal of preparing students successfully and authentically for their future.  They aim to enhance students’ social-emotional, life, & language skills through creative and purpose development endeavors with a cross-cultural emphasis.  In doing so, they strive to fill the many gaps left by our traditional education system.  Head & Heart International currently offers enrichment curriculum programming for K-12 schools as well as consulting services focused on career and college readiness for high school students and their families.