Choosing a College


There are many variables that go into choosing the right post-secondary college or vocational school. Before a student considers which school to focus on for their short list, it is important to first consider the career path and the educational requirements to be successful in that career path. The next step is to shorten the list of schools that carry a strong reputation for the major/subject and for placing graduating students into a first job upon graduation in that career.  With all of that said, this article assumes you’ve done that work and you are now focused on the short list.

To compare schools, try using a four box chart that allows you to compare two variables. The variables that you might consider need to be relevant to your needs. By combining the two variables, make a determination about what it means for a school to be in any of the four quadrants. The following examples are just a few of the variables to consider:

  • Retention Rate
  • Cost
  • Average Starting Salary of Graduating Students at that School (available at the school’s placement office)

Example 4 Box Chart
Using the link in the second paragraph above, you can download, print and create your own comparison chart for Retention Rate vs Cost. Here is what it might look like when you are finished (Legend of Colleges would be the names of the schools represented by the corresponding letter):

About Retention Rate

Retention rates at colleges varies widely and is a hidden metric that some schools would prefer you didn’t know about. The “retention and graduation rate” can be analyzed for 4-year undergraduate, 5 yrs, masters, all students, etc.

About the Cost of college

The cost becomes complicated when you consider all of the variables such as scholarships, grants, financial aid, etc. To keep an analysis simple, you can use the “Estimated Student Expenses (before Aid)” or the “Net Cost”.

Where to find College Retention Rate and Cost

The Career Coaching for Students™ program has an extensive and comprehensive research portal called Student Resource Central™ with the best of the best links to information on the Web for both college search and career exploration. One of the most informative sites that provides you with retention rates and cost data is the U.S. Department of Education sponsored site called College Navigator.

With College Navigator, you can search for and select colleges based on many variables that are important to you. Once you have a list of schools from the search, add those schools you consider to be “Favorites” to the Favorites List. From the Favorites list, you can “Compare” up to four schools at a time.

Carl Nielson is an organizational development consultant, professional career and executive/leadership coach and creator of the nationally recognized program Career Coaching for Students™ . Career Coaching for Students is available as a district-wide high school program and in group and on-one-one offerings through certified career coaches throughout the United States, Canada and other countries. Contact Carl Nielson at carl@successdiscoveries.com or call 972-346-2892 to discuss specific needs.

One response to “Choosing a College

  1. Good article. Another thing to investigate is the career or placement services that is offered by the college or university. If the university’s contact says, “Huh?” that means they couldn’t care less about your future success.

    Bill Perry, Ph.D.

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