It feels like just yesterday I was reading up on 100s of schools, trying to decide which ones to apply to. But now I’m in my final weeks of my Sophomore year of college. I’m getting ready to study abroad for a year in England. I’m overloaded with 40+ pages of papers to write…. Time flies fast and you want to make sure you’re at the perfect school.
So, what is the perfect university? The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all school. You have to find the one that’s perfect for you. Don’t worry! I know it’s stressful, but I’m here to help. This is going to be a long post, so save it for later if you don’t have the time right now.
- Community College vs. Four-Year University vs. Online School
The first step to choosing the perfect school for you is to decide which type of school you want to, or need to, attend. There’s no shame in choosing community college, and online school can be great for many students.
- Community College: This is the best option for students who: want to improve their grades and transfer to a four-year school later, obtain an Associate degree or certificate, or who want to save money.
- Associate degrees can be completed in two years, so why not study at a community college and save a lot of money?
- If you’re graduating high school, but your grades are too low for a four-year university, or you need a higher GPA for your dream school, it’s okay! Life happens, mistakes are made, things that are out of our control come into play. A community college is a great place to raise your GPA. After 1-2 years of working on your GPA, no one is going to care about your high school GPA, SAT, or ACT test scores.
- If you aren’t sure about what you want to major in or “be”, community college is the perfect place to start. You can get your core classes out of the way for a fraction of the cost and then transfer to a four-year school when you’ve decided what you want to major in. I’m all about saving money! You should be too, college is expensive.
- Four-Year University: This is the best option for students who know what they want to major in, whose GPA is right for their dream school, and for anyone whose gone to community college, but wants to transfer.
- Some people start at a four-year university and that’s perfectly fine. If you know you want to major in X, then this is a great option. You can find a school that offers that major and jump right in.
- If you don’t want to go to community college and your GPA is high enough, you have no reason to avoid a four-year college (unless you want to, of course).
- If you’ve finished up your time at community college and are ready to transfer to a four-year, awesome! If that’s not the case, but you plan on it at some point, it’s never too early to start looking.
- Online School: This option is best for students who are independent, self-motivated, non-traditional, and nomadic. Being able to take online classes has truly enhanced and revolutionized earning a degree. Students at virtually every school can take online classes. But if you want the perks of online school, this may be better than simply taking a class or two online a semester. However, it’s not all fun and games.
- If you’re independent and self-motivated, you will do fine at a completely online school. But if you’re not, this is not a good fit. Expect to have to keep up with deadlines yourself, teach yourself from the materials provided, and be responsible for any problem that arises (like slow internet, bad computer…).
- Online school is one of the best options for non-traditional students, aside from community college. You have the flexibility to work, take care of your kids, or whatever else you need to do in your daily life. You also get to take courses that match your pace. You can take two classes or six at a time.
- Nomadic students will find comfort in online classes. Whether you’re abroad volunteering, traveling for work, traveling for fun, or just never in one place, online classes are great for you. Like non-traditional students, you can choose a pace and course load that fits whatever is going on in your life.
2. Public vs Private
Deciding whether your school is going to be publicly funded or privately funded is an important decision. Not just financially!
- Public: Publicly funded schools are funded by the state and/or federal government.
- Public colleges and universities are much cheaper than their private counterparts.
- Public schools have to abide by different rules than private schools. The government chooses how much funding they get, what types of extra laws/regulations apply and make other decisions.
- Private: Privately funded schools are very expensive. The cost is usually the same for all students, even the in-state ones. The receive little or no government funding (most don’t). Many private schools are associated with religious or non-profit organizations.
- Very expensive, even with financial aid.
- Private schools are usually stricter than public schools (not always the case!) Some religiously affiliated ones have faced controversy over the years because they didn’t handle student reports of sexual assault, or because they laid blame to the victim. However, there are tons of ones that do the right thing. Just research!
- Many of them have state-of-the-art buildings and equipment; which is pretty cool.
3. Location: In State vs. Out of State, Near vs. Far, Foreign Country
Location is one of the biggest factors in choosing where to go to school. There are a lot of options and when it comes to location.
- In State: There are a lot of perks for students who choose to go to an in-state school.
- Many states have exclusive scholarship and grant programs for students who stay in-state. For example, I receive the HOPE Scholarship every semester because I’m a resident of Georgia. It’s definitely worth looking into.
- In-state public schools are cheaper than out of state ones. This can vary by a few hundred to several thousand. If you want to save money, stay in your home state.
- Another perk (or not?) is being close to your family. Some people want to stay close to home and some don’t. If you want to stay close to home, choose an in-state school. You can go to school in your hometown, or get a little space by going somewhere a few hours away (what I do). It’s nice to be able to go home and do laundry, eat free food and experience fast internet….
- Out of State: There are many positives and negatives of going to an out of state school.
- Of course, the cost is higher. If you can afford to pay more, why not see the country?
- Which leads me this next one! Going to another state means new people, new places, new experiences. It can be life-changing or just a little fun.
- It might come as a surprise but there are actually some scholarships and grants available exclusively to students who go to school out of their home state.
- Near: Like I said, there are some perks to being close to home.
- Go home on the weekends, or every few weeks. You can wash your clothes for free (it adds up @ $3 or more a wash). Another big one is free food. I have a job and I still struggle to eat…just saying. Maybe you just miss your family? No shame. You can want space and still want to see them more than once a semester. Finally, you might have family or relationship reasons for staying in state, and that’s okay too. Just make sure it’s what you want.
- Far: If you don’t care about those perks, going farther could be a good thing. Maybe the situation at home is something you want to get away from. Maybe you just want to leave a small town. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of places to go. You can always transfer if the distance is too much later.
- Foreign Country: I felt like it was worth mentioning that you can go to school in other countries. It could be more expensive, cheaper, or even free. Yeah. Free. Right now, Germany is the boss! A lot of Americans and other nationalities are heading to Germany for a free degree. I’m not going into details on this post, but you can look it up.
It might not seem like it, but choosing between a large university and a small one can make a difference. I’m talking about the size of the student population. Admittedly, I’m a little bias. This blog is my opinion anyway.
- Small School: I chose a small school and there are many perks, but there are also negatives.
- The main reason I chose a small school is because of the one-on-one time I get with professors. My professors have classes with 10-100 students. But usually about 30, it depends on the subject. My professors are available more than those at big schools. They reply to my emails faster and grade my papers faster (usually?).
- Dorms! I have one roommate. We share a bathroom. I have my own room with my own closet. Its. The. Best. Bigger schools usually have many roommates in one or two rooms. I don’t even want to think about the communal bathroom. Only two people use mine…and I’m one of them.
- Small schools aren’t perfect, though. We have less amazing events, like awesome speakers or concerts. No one knows who we are. Everyone thinks I go to Georgia Southern…I don’t. The point is, small schools are basically nobodies. If that doesn’t bother you, there are a lot of positives. Fewer food choices though…
- Large Schools: Although I don’t prefer big schools, you might!
- Classes are pretty large. Usually a few hundred. Most professors have one or more T.A.s and they teach and grade papers. You might struggle if you need one-on-one time.
- They have great food choices, tons of options. There’s usually a lot of events, new people to meet, and parties.
- Everyone will know about your school. No one will confuse it with a slightly bigger one…
- The dorm situation will probably suck, but maybe not. It depends on whether you’re going to a private or public school.
- It will be hard to get recommendations. You won’t be able to get to know your professors as well so the future recommendations won’t be genuine. You might not be able to any period.
- More social options and organizations to join, which is great for networking. There will also be more major programs available, which is nice in case you want to change later.
- Another perk is that there will be more jobs on campus. Small schools have a limited number.
The price of your education will likely be the most important factor. You have to find the perfect college, but what about the cost? All I can say is this: don’t let the price hold you back. I know I said you should be worried about the cost, but it’s not the end of the world. Yes, I firmly believe that choosing a good-enough school to save money is great. But sometimes I regret my choice of doing that.
There will always be a way to pay for it. Yes, loans suck, but your education is worth it. College is a one-time thing (for most of us anyway), don’t waste it. Apply for scholarships, grants, and financial aid. Work hard. Take out loans as a last resort. But don’t let the cost keep you from going where you want to go. You need to do what’s best for you, even if it’s expensive.
That’s it! I hope I helped you. What’s your dream school? Let me in the comments! Mine was Harvard :’)
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