Finding your pot of gold: 5 factors to consider when choosing a place to attend college

Congratulations! You are months away from graduation and well on your way to the dream of starting your collegiate career or graduate work! You have received — or are about to receive — letters of acceptance, and now all you need to do is make that all important decision about where you will attend school in the fall.  Here are 5 factors, followed by advice to consider as you choose a place to attend college:

  1. Location:  Consider driving down the cost to attend school by attending an instate institution, closer to home. In addition, think about your network. The individuals you connect with in college are often colleagues for life, potentially making the region in which you attend school quite important as you build relationships for your career.
  2. Campus Life:  Sometimes you arrive on a campus visit and it just feels right. Take a bit of time to recall those visits and identify the factors that may impact your decision to attend a particular school. Benchmark these factors against the other schools to which you have applied.
  3. Faculty:  It is important to know the people with whom you will work during your time at each institution. Call the admissions office and ask if they could connect you to a student currently attending the institution. Ask the student about campus life, the degree program, and the faculty in which you’ll be studying.  If you’re a student applying to take an applied art form (Music, Dance, Visual Arts, etc.), contact your applied professor with whom you have been in contact and set up a time to meet for coffee, take a lesson, or at the very least speak with them via Skype about the program.
  4. Cost: Don’t go into debt if you can avoid it.  Look at the entire list of schools in which you have applied and use this handy tool I created to make a side-by-side comparison on how much you will have paid by the time you finish your degree at each institution.  If you/your parents can afford to pay for college without going into debt, consider attending a less expensive school in order to take advantage of coming out debt free AND MAYBE a little money in the bank, which will give you more flexibility after graduation.
  5. Job Prospects: First, identify your dream job within your field of study and research the average starting salary. There are lots of websites dedicated to salary information so chances are you’ll find something close to what you’d like to do after you graduate.  Second, locate people in your dream job and ask them out for coffee to find out more about your chosen degree/career path.

With all of the above information in mind, I’ll leave you with two bits of advice as you make your final decision.

  • Go to the school that offers the best value. With an ever changing economy, I don’t like uncertainty.  Taking on a lot of debt in order to attain your degree is not a great path.  Ultimately, you want flexibility upon graduation so the less debt you take on, the more flexibility you have to make decisions about the next steps in life.
  • Institutions of higher learning generally offer the same course of study for each particular degree, with very little variation. Degree programs at universities are governed by a regional or national accrediting body that sets expectations for each institution.  For example, the degree you receive in music at one institution will look largely the same at all institutions within the United States. That means you should pick the institution that works best for you instead of thinking about any curricular advantages a particular school may offer.

Thanks for reading and I hope this post helps set you up to find your own personal pot of gold at the institution you choose to attend.

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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