[Poll Results] Most Important Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Colleges

April 4, 2013
Arguably "the most important decision of your life," choosing a college takes careful deliberation and consideration. In a recent poll conducted by, the nation’s largest directory of in-person tutors, we asked tutors to list the most important factors that students should consider when deciding between colleges. This word cloud displays the most commonly reported responses:

#1: Majors & Degrees offered

In recent years, due to an increasingly competitive job market and sky-high tuition rates, students have been encouraged to be thoughtful about their academic tracks and subsequent career plans even earlier. A few tutor responses indicated that, even with a specified field of interest, students should consider a college’s alternative program offerings or “back up options,” in the event that the initial idea isn’t a good fit. Considering 50% of college students change their major at least once while in school, this may be a reality for many students. For students who are uncertain about their career and interests, a liberal arts school with a variety of programs should be a more highly ranked option in the decision making process.

#2: Cost & Financial Aid

It is clear that student debt has grown astronomically in recent years. The average student in 2012 faced $27,253 in debt, which is a 58% increase from 2005. Tutor Mykola V. tells students that “out of pocket cost should not be [greater] than the average first year salary of the career you choose.” With 15% of students defaulting on loans last year, it begs the question whether the high price tag associated with your dream school is worth the risk – especially faced with the reality that very few students are guaranteed full-time employment post-college.

Special consideration should be given to schools who offer you financial assistance. “Students may have already applied for various financial aid packages offered by the school as early as January, but check to see if the schools you’re greatly considering still have available grants that are open to applications. It could mean the difference of one school over the other,” says Tutor Sarah G. in Tucson, AZ.

#3: Location

There are many secondary factors that are closely associated with cost, such as the school’s location. Attending a college or university in a major city will result in higher costs of living. Additionally, a farther distance from home will rack up travel expenses for students who expect to return home for holidays or other occasions. If students are looking to attend college in a new part of the country, they should make it a priority to visit the campus as many times as possible to assess their level of comfort with the location. After all, this will be home for at least 4 years!

HONORABLE MENTION #4: Career Services & Graduate Job Placement

Factors like dorm size and cafeteria quality are the deciding characteristics of the past. Instead, students should be mindful of the on-campus career services and alumni network that each school offers. Today, about half of college graduates work in jobs that do not require a degree, so students need to be more reliant on university resources than ever before. As a result of the Higher Education Opportunity Act passed in 2008, schools are required to disclose job and graduate school placements, in addition to some other helpful statistics. If a student has his or her heart set on a certain industry - especially in the areas of technology, engineering or business - then the school’s reputation and relationship with employers will be a major factor in helping students reach their professional goals. Students should research which employers have a history of hiring graduates from each institution.

A common recommendation from most tutors is to reach out to current and former students who attended each university or college in question. Most students and alumni would welcome the opportunity to share knowledge about their alma mater. They are an excellent resource who can give you specific, first-hand commentary on all aspects of the school and the characteristics that are most important to you.

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