How to Research Colleges
Selecting what college to go is a big decision. You are considering the cost, quality of education, whether the schedule of classes fit your needs, and location. This list just tips the iceburg. Basically, you will need to do some college research.
There are many tools that can help you research colleges and a few college statistics and information you'll want to look for. This article will show you how to:
- Find the graduation rates of colleges
- Find the average cost it takes a student to complete a degree at a college
- Find the college's accreditation status
You'll also want to organize the schools you are looking to attend. You will find colleges that excel in one area (perhaps graduation rate) could be more costly than another school. You can use Google Documents and start a Google Spreadsheet to keep track of the schools you are interested and some facts about them. Google documents is handy as you can access this spreadsheet from any computer and even a smart phone. Google documents is also free and you can share the document with others. Use the spreadsheet columns to track what statistics are most important to you.
Graduation Rates and Cost to Complete College
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded a useful website to help with college research. The Chronical of Higher Education: College Completion website (link opens in a new browser window) provides an easy way to research colleges.
One particularly useful feature is the overview of the United States map. Simply click the "Overview" button in the header of the website.
Next, click on the state in which you are looking at attending school. You can also narrow down your search by clicking on the type of colleges you are interested in viewing (for example 4 year or 2 year schools).
Selecting Where to go to College
Selecting where to go to college is important and can have a significant impact on cost. Colleges have in state tuition and out of state tuition. Unless the school is a private school, public colleges have different rates when you are a resident to that state and when you are not. The cost of tuition can jump as high as 3 times the in state rate when you are out of state. Also, each state may have different requirements to be a resident. If you are looking at attending a public college out of state, contact the admissions office and check out their requirements to become an in state resident.
There are many factors involved when choosing a school. If you click on the Colleges link in the left sidebar it will jump you to a table with colleges listed as well as tons of information.
From this location you can quickly view the 6 and 4 year graduation rate of the college or university. You can also check out how much a student spent to complete their program. Another good statistic to look at is the student aid per recipient. You will also notice the area for students with pell grants. This statistic shows the percent of students at that college or university who have a great enough financial need to qualify for a pell grant.
College Accreditation Status Research
You also want to make sure the college you want to attend is accredited. If you take classes at that college, those classes most likely will not transfer to an accredited college - which means attaining a Master's degree or transferring to another college would be difficult or more expensive since you may have to retake courses. Also, if you are looking at going into the medical field, the college should have a special accreditation just for that. Here is how to check a colleges accreditation status.
Visit CollegeSource.org (link opens in a new window) and type in the name of the college you are researching.
Next, click on the Building icon.
Review the college or university's Regional Accreditation Status, Institutional Accreditation, and Specialized Accreditations. Remember, if you are looking at going into the medical field, make sure the college is accredited in that field.
Additional Aspects of a College to Consider
Some colleges have a religious affiliation, others do not offer housing. Other colleges may be located in a rural area whereas another is located in a big city. You may want a college with a diverse student population or a small faculty to student ration. This list goes on and on. However, reflecting on these items now will help you eliminate colleges that just don't fit what you are looking for.
Types of Colleges
Two Year Colleges (Community or Junior Colleges)
The practicality of two year colleges is that they are generally low cost and their programs center around a 2 year completion time. Many of these schools also offer certification programs that are highly desired in the workforce - especially in the community that the college may be located in.
You may be surprised about the programs offered at a community college. The school may have IT related computer certifications or degree tracks, health certiciations and programs (that generally pay graduates well upon completion), and trade certifications.
Two year colleges are also likely to have relationships with 4 year colleges or universities in the state that will help transition their 2 year degree graduates to Bachelors Degree seekers.
If you are unsure of what degree you are interested or unsure of a career path, starting at your local community college may be a smart move. These colleges have academic advisors and career services to help you explore your options and interests as well.
Remember, 2 year colleges specialize in graduating students with a degree or certification in 2 years, so you will not be able to attain a Bachelor's from them.
As mentioned, these schools can be dramatically cheaper to attend and if you qualify for the pell grant, that could cover your entire full-time tuition plus books.
Four Year Colleges
Some 2 year colleges have started to become small four year state colleges. The words "community college" may not be in the title of these schools anymore, but they are still basically a community college that now offers 4 year degrees. These smaller state schools can be just as affordable as a community college and specialize in offering certificate programs as well.
Public verse Private Colleges and Universities
When a school is listed as a public school, it receives funding from the government (state and local money). Because they receive money from the state, they have in-state student and out-of-state student tuition rates. Private colleges fund themselves and their rates are the same for all students no matter their residency.
Because a public college recieves financial assistance, it may be cheaper to attend a public college if you are an in-state reside where that college resides.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, "For the 2010–11 academic year, annual current dollar prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated to be $13,600 at public institutions, $36,300 at private not-for-profit institutions, and $23,500 at private for-profit institutions."
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Digest of Education Statistics, 2011 (NCES 2012-001), Chapter 3.
Not all private universities are expensive though. Some of the cheapest include: Alice Lloyd College, Allen University, Berea College, Brigham Young University, Lane College, Life University, Park University, Rust College, Tougaloo College, William Carey University.
In-State verse Out-of-State
If you are going to a public school, whether it be a 2 year community college, 4 year state school, or university, there is a significant tuition difference between in-state student tuition and out-of-state student tuition. This difference can be as high as double to triple the amount an in-state resident will pay. The state in which you have resided over the past year is your state of residence and you will qualify for in-state tuition.
Though each state's requirements may be different, generally you must live in the state for 1 year, have a drivers license or identification card from that state, and you may need another type of verification that you live in the state - such as housing information.
Some of the least expensive colleges to attend if you are out-of-state include: Bemidji State University, Louisiana State University, Mayville State University, Midwestern State University, Minot State University, Missouri Southern State University, Northern State University, South Dakota State University, University of South Dakota, West Texas A&M University
You probably already know there are colleges that are completely virtual - meaning they have no physical campus of any kind. Every student enrolled at the university is taking their entire degree program online. However, more universities and colleges are offering complete degree programs to online students and a physical college experience to their other students.
When looking to attend college online, don't miss out by only searching for online colleges - your favorite university (if you have one) may also have the degree you are seeking completely online.
Many colleges or universities that strickly offer online programs can be expensive. Western Governors University (MGU) was founded by 19 governors whose mission was to expand educational excess. MGU is one of the most affordable universities. You can check out Western Governors University's tuition page (link opens in a new window).
You may want to consider whether attending school online is a good fit for you. You will need to be self-disciplined; remember, you are not required now to sit in a class every Tuesday at 10am. The content is the same, there is still an instructor, but it will be up to you to watch any lectures or read the course material. It will be up to you to submit your assignments on time. Many online programs will also require you to collaborate with peers. You'll be using email, chat, phone, virtual conference calls, and online virtual rooms to do this.