BY JONAH LAWSON
Are you a junior who can’t decide which college is best for you? Are you a senior who doesn’t understand what’s on your financial aid award? Then look look no further, as the information below is here to help you.
4-Year College v. Community College
Many discount the benefits of attending a community college. If you were to attend Wake Tech for two years and then transfer to NC State, you could save around $8,000 while still obtaining the same bachelor’s degree. For families struggling to pay for college, this is an easy way to save money without sacrificing education.
Small v. Large
Typical* Characteristics of Large Universities (15,000 or more undergraduate students):
- More variety in available majors
- Better-funded sports programs
- Better research facilities
- Larger alumni networks
Characteristics of Small Universities (5,000 or less undergraduate students):
- Smaller class sizes (allow more one-on-one time with professors)
- Advisers who know their students better and can provide more assistance
- A strong sense of community
Urban v. Rural v. Suburban
Characteristics of Rural Schools:
- Less networking/job opportunities
- Less efficient transportation (especially if you don’t own a car)
- Isolation from big cultural/entertainment hubs
- Unique opportunities for those pursuing degrees in Agriculture or Environmental Science
- Quieter, more bucolic settings
Characteristics of Urban Schools:
- Compact campuses
- Things to do (shows, performances, restaurants, shops) in free time
- Diverse communities
- Crowded walkways, libraries, restaurants
Characteristics of Suburban Schools
- Blend of urban and rural (internships, transportation, and strong sense of community)
Public v. Private
Private schools offer many of the same advantages as smaller schools, as the two often go hand-in-hand. While it is true that private schools generally have higher ticket prices than public schools, they are not always more expensive in the end. Private universities have more funds (called an endowment) to provide financial aid and scholarships, which can reduce the price drastically for prospective students. If your household income is less than $60,000, a private university may give you a full ride if their endowment is large enough.
Liberal Arts v. STEM
It’s important to go to a college that accommodates your career interests. Some schools are STEM-focused, while others emphasize a “liberal arts” education. Some smaller, typically private schools are known explicitly as “liberal arts colleges” because they don’t have any graduate schools; liberal arts colleges typically excel in quality of teaching and access to professors. Davidson College, Meredith College, and Amherst College are examples of liberal arts colleges. Many universities offer opportunities for students interested in both STEM and liberal arts subjects. Although NC State may be known for its engineering school, it still offers wide-ranging majors. Check online to see what kind of degrees a college offers and what its reputation is in those fields.
Close to Home (In-State) v. Far from Home (Out-of-State)
Schools close to home/in-state may offer:
- A place to stay if on-campus housing is too expensive
- Support from family (occasional laundry, home-cooked meals) and an established group of friends
- Cheaper costs among public schools
Schools farther from home/out-of-state may offer:
- More experience in the outside world
- More independence
A low graduation rate may indicate that a college doesn’t properly support its students academically. Maybe professors and advisors don’t help students who are struggling. Another factor could be that students aren’t satisfied with their school, possibly because faculty members disappoint or tuition is too high. It could also mean that schools often deal with underprivileged children who have a higher propensity to drop out. Checking a school’s graduation rate is a good idea, but keep in mind that the number itself doesn’t tell the whole story.
Social Life at the College
When choosing a college, one should consider both the diversity of the student body and how well one might fit in. Gender distribution and racial diversity can usually be found here. Unigo, Collegevine, and Niche are websites that offer student perspectives on university life, including the party scene, LGBT friendliness, greek life culture, political leanings, and much more.
How to Decipher Your Financial Aid Award
- If the words “grant, award, or scholarship” appear, the money in that section does not have to be paid back.
- A subsidized loan is a unique government loan that won’t gain interest while you are attending school.
- All other loans will accrue interest during your time in school and beyond–these loans are not ideal.
- Student employment, also known as “Federal Work-Study” is a job provided by the college to help you pay bills.
- If you have any questions about your financial aid statement, reach out to the school’s Office of Financial Aid.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for more money if you need it. It can’t hurt and might make your dream school affordable.
*Note that there are always exceptions to these generalities, and each college is unique.
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