Multicultural college students sitting in the back of a classroom.

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3 Important Questions to Consider When Choosing a College

The college application process can make your senior year of high school as nerve-racking as it is exciting. But the emotional roller coaster doesn’t end there—the real fun begins once you receive your college acceptance letters. Just as all the colleges you applied to chose between you and other prospective students, you now get to choose between all the colleges you’ve been accepted to.

This role-reversal is significant, because it puts you in position to make one of the biggest decisions of your life. And while factors like financial aid and scholarship offerings, or the lack thereof, may directly impact the viability of the college options you have to choose from, there are plenty of non-monetary considerations that can and should also play into your ultimate decision. After all, your college decision is likely to impact far more than the next four years of your life. 

Here are three important questions to consider before making this life-altering choice.

1. Where do you want to live after you graduate?

While most high school students intend to leave their hometowns after graduation, 61% of college students plan on finding a job close to where they attended college. And while some of these students may really enjoy the area surrounding their respective schools, love of location isn’t the only incentive for staying put. 

A new report exploring the job placement of recent college graduates reveals that, among the graduates who’ve gained employment, 85% of jobs were filled through networking. Just as notably, 80% of the job openings these graduates filled were never published or advertised. In other words, more than 8 in 10 college graduates can directly attribute their employment to networking. So, as college students are likely to build their professional network—through internships, professors, campus networking events, and so on—with more local connections than geographically distant ones, knowing where you want to live after college can help you determine which school to enroll in.

Put another way, if you want to go into finance and hope to work on Wall St. after graduation, it may be worthwhile to give greater consideration to a school in New York than a school in the Midwest. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with not knowing where you ultimately want to live either. Even then, however, it’s helpful to consider your likes and dislikes. Seriously. Schools in Arizona might make more sense than schools in Washington if you don’t do well with cold weather.

2. Will your AP classes or college credits be accepted?

Between dual enrollment options, like Minnesota’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program, and AP classes—which are offered in over 80% of high schools in the U.S.—not to mention the College-Level Examination Program®(CLEP) or International Baccalaureate® (IB), it’s become rather common for students to graduate high school with college credits or college credit equivalents. And while these credits and credit equivalents look good on a college application, their value doesn’t stop there. Every college credit you earn in high school can lower the outstanding credits you need to complete to graduate college.

If they’re accepted.

Not every school accepts AP, CLEP, or IB exams for college credit. Similarly, not every college will accept the transferring of college credits earned via PSEO. Fortunately, many colleges do. And the difference between going to a college that accepts these credits and a college that doesn’t can directly impact the time, and money, you spend matriculating through school.

I’ve experienced this firsthand. After two years of PSEO, I graduated high school with 50 college credits under my belt. But not every college that accepted me would accept all these credits. Each school would accept a different amount, some much more than others. In the end, I elected to go to a school that accepted 49 of my 50 credits (the only credit they couldn’t accept was for percussion ensemble, simply because they didn’t have one). 

Because of this, I entered college as a second semester sophomore. And with heavy semester courseloads and summer classes, I was able to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in two years. I went to graduate school immediately afterward, graduating with my MFA in a little over a year. Altogether then, the initial acceptance of my college credits enabled me to complete my BA and my MFA in less than the four years after high school it generally takes to earn a bachelor’s degree. Had I enrolled in a college that didn’t accept many or any of my credits, my academic journey and the career it’s resulted in would look considerably different.

After two years of PSEO, I graduated high school with 50 college credits under my belt. But not every college that accepted me would accept all these credits.

3. What are alums who had your intended major doing now?

If you’re not sure what you want to major in yet, you’re not alone. As many as 50% of students enter college undecided, and 75% report having changed their major at least once. If you’re among those who are confident about the field you want to pursue, however, it may be worth investigating what the alums who had your intended major at each of the colleges you’re considering are doing now.

This is different than learning what alums of the school as a whole are up to. Pinpointing the career journeys of those with your intended major can help you evaluate how your specific program prepares students for life after college. After all, if you plan on enrolling in a chemical engineering program, learning that school alums often work at J.P. Morgan & Co. or ESPN doesn’t really help you assess the career readiness framework most applicable to you.

You can often find this information on a college’s website or in the materials they sent alongside your acceptance letter. If you’re not finding it there, however, you can use LinkedIn to figure it out on your own. To start, simply pull up a school’s LinkedIn page and navigate to the “Alumni” tab. From there, you can sift through all the alums, applying filters like “Industry” and clicking on individual profiles to find and track the career journey of graduates with your intended major.

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