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How to choose a college – 6 factors to consider

Key takeaways:

- When choosing a college, your family should consider the price of tuition and any financial aid available to help cover college costs.

- Location = where you’ll be for the next four years. If you want to be close to home while being cost-effective, you may want to choose an in-state school. 

- Consider different factors such as the student culture on campus, academic programs, and any post-grad opportunities it could provide for you and your future.

What college should I go to?

It’s an age-old question. But, the truth is — it depends. There’s no right or wrong answer. As a future college student, you should assess your situation and consider several factors before making a final decision. 

Once you have an idea of what your dream college may look like, loop your family in to get their thoughts. After all — your parents may be helping you pay for tuition — so their input is important. And if you’re covering most of the costs with scholarships or loans — chances are, your family will still be involved in your college selection process.

Factors to consider when choosing a college:

Your college years will likely be some of the most important years of your life. Choosing a college will likely be your first major financial decision — and will be a pathway to your future. That’s why it’s important to research before making a decision. Here are our top six factors to consider when choosing a college that’s right for you:

Teen daughter and father in bedroom looking at phone, researching college options together on phone

1. Type of college and location

Private vs. Public colleges and universities 

Public schools or private schools. In-state schools or out-of-state schools. The list goes on. While public and in-state schools are typically less expensive, depending on the school’s financial aid package — you may come across a better offer. Consider applying to various colleges and universities and compare their financial aid offers closely. You can save thousands of dollars in loans (and interest!) by choosing a school that suits your family’s financial needs.

In-state schools vs. Out-of-state schools

Goodbye, high school. Hello, new city (or state!). If you want to be close to home and save money, you may want to choose an in-state school or a local community college. If you’ve got your heart set on an out-of-state school, consider the costs. Though some out-of-state colleges will offer generous financial aid packages, it will likely cost more to attend a school far from home — but it could be the right decision for your future career!

Greenlight tip: With out-of-state schools, consider the extra costs. Traveling back home for the holidays, on or off-campus housing, and money for gas or public transportation.

2. College admissions: Competitive selection 

While looking at colleges, you may notice some are more selective. That means: Requiring a higher GPA, high SAT or ACT scores, additional essay or audition requirements, and more. What are the application requirements for your dream college? Take a look at these numbers to see if your grades and background match the admissions requirements.

3. Majors and programs

Different schools offer different programs. While some may have a robust engineering program, others may have a top-rated visual arts program. Think about what majors and programs your dream college offers — are they aligned with your academic and career goals? Are the programs rated highly or recommended by former students? Are there internship or career pipeline opportunities for the major or program you’re interested in pursuing?

4. Community on campus and enrollment size 

Visit your future campus community 

Planning to live on campus? Consider visiting colleges before applying to get a sense of the community on campus. While you’re there, ask yourself if there are any clubs or organizations that you see yourself joining. 

Are other prospective students friendly and welcoming? Do you feel comfortable walking around campus? Can you envision yourself living there?

Group of six college students walking together on campus, laughing outside and building a community

Greenlight tip: Sometimes, things feel different when you go visit a college campus in person. And that’s okay. Pick the college that feels right to you.

Total student body population and class sizes

Think about how big your graduation class may be in four years. Do you want to attend a large public university or a small private college? Do you want to attend large lecture halls every day? Or would you rather attend smaller classes where you’ll have more individualized attention?

Think about all of these factors when visiting colleges and universities. And if you’re unable to visit in person — most schools have information on clubs, class sizes, and community on their website.

5. Career services

Does your #1 college pick offer internship and career opportunities outside of the classroom? What about job placement assistance upon graduation? Consider this important factor when making your final decision.

Career services can make a huge difference in the long run. Ask if your college’s career services offer resume reviews, mock interviews, and career fairs — as all of these can help you jumpstart your career. What better way to celebrate your college graduation than with an amazing job offer lined up? 

6. Financial aid offerings and cost of attendance

The cost of higher education is on the rise. Just take a look at the average cost of attendance for each of these types of schools:

Annual cost of college table with types of institutions on the left and cost to attend on the right

When making a college decision, look at each school's financial aid package. Is it mostly scholarships and grants? (Those won’t need to be paid back!) Or is it mainly student and parent loans?  

While financial aid can help cover some of the costs associated with college — it likely won’t cover it all. Room and board, groceries, supplies, and books are some common expenses that keep adding up.

Greenlight tip: Start saving for college early and often with some of Greenlight's offerings.

Choose a college and prepare for the costs.

If your dream college is more expensive than you imagined, it may be time to create a financial plan or explore other options. Talk to your family and determine which schools are financially attainable for your financial situation — now and in the future. 

Have some time before deciding? Open a Greenlight investment account to save money for college and be prepared for the costs. One month, on us!

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