Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions that you will make about your future. That can be intimidating, but if you ask the right questions up front, you can be sure you’re arriving at the right answer.
Here are four questions you should ask to ensure that you are choosing the right school to fit your goals and lifestyle:
1. What are you looking to gain from this experience?
Begin by asking yourself your purpose for attending college. Many traditional students are looking for a more holistic college experience including a wide range of majors and campus organizations. In contrast, many adult learners are often in search of a clear path to their career goals that takes into consideration their existing financial challenges and responsibilities.
Depending on your stage in life, your purpose for going back to school will differ greatly and impact the type of institution you choose. Know what your goals are and use them to shape your research.
2. What do I want to study?
For undergraduate students, decisions about which major to pursue may change a few times, but the more you know about your personal and career goals, the better equipped you will be to choose the college that’s right for you.
For those who are unsure what they want to study, the State of Colorado recently launched, LaunchMyCareerColorado.org, a resource for people considering a college degree and its impact on future earnings potential. You can also visit Skillful.com, a new LinkedIn and Markle Foundation collaboration that connects job seekers with skill-based educational programs. These are be a great place to see what careers are out there, what credentials you need, and what colleges and universities offer those programs. After you have researched programs that interest you, speak to the admissions department at your chosen university to see if the program will fit your professional and personal goals. Admissions professionals will also be able to answer questions about tuition and other admissions requirements.
3. What format will fit with my other priorities?
For prospective students who will plan on attending school full-time, there are many programs that will fit your needs and schedule. If you are a working adult, class schedules and locations might be difficult to keep up with, especially if you have a family. Where will you find the time for class? Where and when will you do your homework? Will you be stuck on the highway during rush hour, or are you able to take the classes you need at a time that works better for you?
There are many hybrid and online options to consider that will help you fit education into your life without putting other priorities on hold. If this degree of flexibility is important to you and your busy schedule, then this is a question worth asking up front.
A recent study from the Online Learning Consortium found 90 percent of online students say that their academic experience is as good, or better, than an in-person class. If you need a flexible option to complete your education, online learning might be a great fit for you.
4. Are students and alumni happy?
Programs, resources, and accessibility aside, take time to research if the students and alumni are happy with their academic experience. If you personally know students at a particular school, a conversation with them is the best place to start. But if you don’t, you can always post to a school’s Facebook page (or other social media site) and pose the question to a wider sample.
Ask students about their experience with the school, and check back to see what they have to say. Their considerations may differ from yours, but you’ll still get a good sense of how satisfied they are with their experience. They may even answer a few questions you didn’t think to ask.
These are four questions you should keep in mind when researching a college or university. We encourage you to research your options, in order to find the institution that best fits your personal needs and professional goals.