Whether you are looking to start college directly after finishing high school or have taken some time off, choosing the right college can be stressful. With nearly 4,000 degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States alone, it is not easy to narrow down your options and select one with confidence.
At the same time, you cannot afford to make the wrong selection. Enrolling in a school that is not right for your needs and career prospects could prove to be a waste of time and money, setting you back from your goals. The right school, on the other hand, will provide you with the skills and support you need to prepare to be successful in your chosen career path.
Of course, not all schools are created equal. Where should you begin when it comes to choosing a reputable college or university? We have some practical tips and tricks to keep in mind.
Things to Look for in a Reputable College
Whether you are looking for reputable online collegesor schools with a physical campus location, there are some basic things you should look for. It can be helpful to begin by creating a list of colleges that you are already interested in, as well as a list of some of the things you want (and need) to find in a school. From there, you can narrow down some of your options and move forward with assessing each school individually.
If you already have a specific degree or program of study in mind, do your research and make sure that the school you are considering offers it. Otherwise, you will be wasting your time. Some schools offer a wide range of degree programs, whereas others may be more specialized in a certain field or industry.
If you are undecided on your field of study, you do not necessarily have to declare a major when you begin your program. However, you will want to choose a school that offers an extensive range of degree options so that you will be able to find one that works for you.
First and foremost, make sure that any school you are considering is accredited. Each state sets forth its own licensure and accreditation standards for colleges and universities—and schools must meet or exceed these standards in order to maintain .
Generally, institutionally accredited universities and colleges will have a page on their website dedicated to this information—and it should be easy to find. Outside of institutional accreditation, individual programs may have program accreditation, which is also a strong indicator the curriculum meets a certain set of standards required by the accrediting body. You can also use the United States Department of Education’s website to look up a school and determine whether it is listed in the database. If you cannot confirm that the school or your program of interest is accredited, then it is probably best to look elsewhere. A degree from a school that lacks accreditation may not be recognized in some professions or by some employers, and can also impact the ability to obtain financial aid.
Another important aspect of choosing a school is its overall student life and experience. This is especially important if you plan to live on campus—but even if you will be commuting or attending school online, you will want to make sure that there are ways to get involved in student life. For example, you may want to explore what kinds of clubs and other activities are available on campus. If you will be attending an online program, are there ways for you to stay involved and connect with other students while pursuing your online education?
Faculty Diversity and Experience
In addition to making sure your prospective school has the degree program you are looking for, you should also do some research into the faculty’s diversity and experience. How many years of experience do the professors and instructors have actually working in your desired field? Is there a strong research culture with grant money? Consider these aspects of the faculty experience and what’s important to you as you embark on your college search.
These days, there are all kinds of third-party resources that can help you get a better feel for how well a particular school ranks and what kind of reputation it has with its students. U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Colleges has been well-known for their college rankings for many years, based on certain criteria. These are broken down into different categories, and you can click on each school to learn more about it. The U.S. Department of Education also offers the College Navigator and College Scorecard which could be useful tools to evaluate your colleges of interest.
In addition to exploring college ranking, reading college reviews from actual students (past and current) can also be a helpful way to learn more about a prospective school and gain valuable insider knowledge.
Any reputable school will require prospective students to complete and submit a formal application. However, the admission process and specific requirements can vary greatly from one school to the next. It is not uncommon, for example, for a school to ask applicants to send copies of past transcripts. A modest application fee may also be required. In some cases, additional application materials (such as an essay) may be requested.
Take the time to understand the admission requirements (and related fees) for each school you are considering. Keep in mind that the average college application fee in the United States is around $45; if a school is asking for a significantly larger fee just to consider your application, you may want to dig a little deeper to make sure it is a reputable college and not a scam.
If you have any credits from a previous school you attended, you may also want to find out whether or not those credits will transfer to your prospective school. If so, this could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars on tuition and fees. Not all colleges accept the same transfer credits, so be sure to check with an advisor before enrolling.
Likewise, if you plan to finish your degree program and start a graduate program at a different college down the road, you will also want to make sure that the credits you complete will be recognized. If your school is accredited, the chances of a successful credit transfer are better than if it is not, but there are few guarantees. Still, this is something worth looking into and considering if you plan to pursue a higher degree (such as a master’s degree or doctorate degree) down the road.
Student and Career Services
A reputable college will have programs and other resources in place to help you succeed. This remains true whether you will be attending classes online, in-person, or in a hybrid configuration. Take some time to research your prospective school’s career services programs, internship offerings, tutoring, mental health services, disability services, and other resources that will help you make the most of your experience. If the school does not offer any of these, you may want to look for another college that does.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
It is no secret that college can be expensive, with the average cost of a public, four-year degree now The good news? Financial aid and scholarships can help to offset these costs, making it easier and more accessible for students to attend.
Of course, not all colleges and universities offer the same financial aid opportunities. If you plan to apply for federal financial aid, make sure that the school you are considering accepts it. Likewise, explore scholarship and grant opportunities available through your prospective school; many will offer scholarships for incoming students who meet certain requirements.
Likewise, inquire about the school’s payment plan options. Some colleges may allow students to pay off their tuition and fees for each semester in payment plans that are divided into several smaller payments rather than a lump sum.
You can tell a lot about a potential school by assessing how easy it is to get in touch with somebody when you have a question or concern. Consider using your prospective school’s “contact” link on their website to ask a question, then see how long it takes for you to receive a response. If you have a hard time getting in touch with somebody or getting your concerns resolved, this is a sign that the staff and faculty may not be very invested or responsive.
What Are Red Flags to Look For?
In addition to the things you should look for in a reputable college or university, there are also some “red flags” you should watch out for. These red flags could indicate that a school is not reputable or just is not right for you.
Poor Cultural Fit
Not all colleges and universities offer the same campus culture. From community colleges and technical schools to liberal arts colleges and major universities, each school will have its own unique culture that will affect your overall learning experience. With this in mind, it is always a good idea to visit a college campus in person before you apply or enroll, or a “virtual tour” with an admissions representative if you are interested in an online program. You can also check out the school’s social media presence to learn a lot about the environment. This way, you can make sure that the school you are considering is a good cultural fit for your needs, values, and beliefs.
Confusing Tuition/Fee Structure
College tuition, fees, and other costs should always be transparent and easy to understand. If you are having a hard time locating information about the cost per credit hour or other expenses related to a particular program, reach out to an advisor. If you still cannot get a clear answer about the school’s tuition and fees, this should be seen as a major red flag.
Lack of Financial Aid or Scholarship Options
Speaking of college costs, a reputable school should have financial aid advisors to help you understand all your options to make paying for school easier on your wallet. If a school you are considering does not offer any kind of scholarships, loans, or payment plans, then you may want to look into a different option.
Streamline Your Search for the Right College
As you can see, there is a lot to keep in mind as you search for the right college that will support your current and future aspirations. Ultimately, it is all about finding a school that is not only accredited, but that offers the specific degree programs you are interested in. From there, selecting a school that will be a good cultural fit for you can make all the difference in your experience.
At Post University, we are proud to be licensed and institutionally accredited by the state of Connecticut, meeting all quality standards set forth by the state. Likewise, we offer a wide range of degree and certificate programs with programmatic accreditation, ranging from undergraduate to graduate options—as well as evening, weekend, and online programs to suit your busy schedule. Get in touch with us to learn more about what Post University has to offer!