Home Education The Smart Way to Choose a College and Major

The Smart Way to Choose a College and Major

by Gloria Maresca

Are you scratching your head over the question of which college to attend? Do you wonder about what you’ll study once you get there? These two questions are typical ones that float around in the brains of anyone who is headed to college, returning to an interrupted degree after years away, or seeking a diploma for the very first time after a stint in the working world. Fortunately, there are many ways to face the challenge, select the university or college that’s right for you, and pick a major field of study that matches your skills and career goals.

Remember that millions have gone before you, so there’s no sense reinventing the wheel. Let your predecessors’ experiences be your guide. The question has two parts: where to go and what to choose as a major after classes begin. First things first, and second things second, as a variant of the old saying goes. Here are some logical, sequential steps for making both decisions.

Three Rates and One Ratio

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If you like to crunch numbers, these four will give you a quick way to evaluate any academic program you’re considering. They’re all easy to find, too. In nearly every case, you can gather this kind of information on the website of the institution. Look at the acceptance, retention, and graduation rates. The first, acceptance, will show you how selective the school is. If your grades are middling, be sure to apply to a few schools with high admissions ratios. If you are a top student, apply to at least one top-tier program, perhaps two. There’s no way to predict with precision which institutions will say yes and which will say no, but if you know how picky they are before you fill out the paperwork, you’ll save yourself some trouble and maximize your chances for success.

A retention is a revealing number, as is graduation percentages. If students at a particular college are happy, they tend to stay there for a second, third, and fourth year of study. If not, they usually leave after the first two semesters. Avoid applying to programs with unusually low retention rates. Likewise, pay attention to the percentage of people who complete degrees. If it’s high, that’s a very good sign. A low graduation rate can mean several things, and none of them are good. What ratio should you focus on? In academic circles, they call it the STF factor, or the student to faculty ratio. The lower the better, unless you enjoy classrooms where one teacher lectures to 300-plus students at a time. Some of the best universities in the world have STF’s in the teens, meaning classrooms typically contain one instructor and just a dozen or more learners.

Deal with the Money Question as Early as Possible

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While you’re hunting for the perfect institution, begin doing a little homework on the financial side of the project. Namely, consider taking out a private student loan from Earnest.com to cover all your educational expenses. There are multiple advantages to this approach. First, you won’t have to hold down a full-time job and will thus be able to focus exclusively on coursework. And after that, you will be able to search for help on your academic writing at sites as  Essaytigers com.

Additionally, when you find a loan package that suits your needs, you’ll have access to competitive interest rates, manageable repayment periods, and monthly payments that fit your post-graduation budget. The sooner you get your financial situation in order, the better. Lenders will want to know the cost of the degree program, its length, and the name of the school. Once you decide where you’ll be going for your degree, apply for a private student loan. Like so many others, you’ll likely discover that having your expenses taken care of leads to peace of mind and greater academic success.

Check Out Job Placement, Course Offerings, and Schedules

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You can call admissions offices and find out exact job placement stats. If they refuse to tell you, you may want to select another institution. Most will and should be happy to share this information. Quality schools have placement percentages in the ’80s and ’90s. The higher the better. Browse the catalog and explore the variety of courses offered as well as the schedules. What you’re looking for here are huge listings of diverse classes that are offered in traditional weekly schedules plus night and weekend study opportunities. If you intend to work a full-time job during your studies, alternate time slots can be a make or breakpoint in your decision process.

Student Life, Study Abroad, Accreditation

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These three factors are usually at the top of most people’s lists of what makes a college great. Student life comprises all the social elements of living on or near campus, like the size of the school, where it’s located in relation to nearby cities, whether there are on-campus housing opportunities, and how far it is from a major metro area. Also, check to see if there are any study-abroad programs. A year in a foreign country can enhance your resume and broaden your horizons. Many adults note that their year abroad was a life-changing event. Finally, double-check on the school’s accreditation. The information should be listed in a prominent place on their website. Avoid schools that are not accredited by one of the major national organizations.

Select a Major Based on Your Abilities and Interests

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Try to identify study paths based on your abilities and interests. If you are great at math but don’t enjoy it, then avoid majoring in mathematics. Speak with a guidance counselor to get some solid direction on this point. Seek particular fields where you have the aptitude and can see yourself spending a long career.

Ask Is Your Major Practical and Will You Be Able to Earn a Living

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Everyone’s values and goals are different but do enough research to find out if your chosen major, or the ones you are considering, offer realistic employment opportunities. When in doubt, choose a more general rather than a narrow major. Second, find out what the rates of pay are for your chosen fields of study. For example, chemical engineers tend to earn much more than social workers, even if both graduate with 4.0-grade averages from top schools.

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