There is talk of which schools are the best for military families, but the real question you should ask is “Which school is best for YOU?” Here are the top 8 things you should consider when searching for a college.
This is a must. Now, your instinct might tell you that a national accreditation would seem to be better. This is not true. Regional accreditation is more stringent and respected. Why is this important? Credits from a national accredited college are less likely to transfer. There are some schools who will not consider a full degree from a nationally accredited or non-accredited school if you are applying to earn a master’s degree. See why this is so important? It may not be today, but it could make a huge difference in the future.
- Type of Learning Environment
This ranges from class size, to type of learning environment, to access to staff. What works best for you? You need to know yourself and your learning style.
Class size. If you hate large class sizes, consider going to a community college for the basic classes, but be sure the community college has regional accreditation. f you know what college you want to attend next, verify that they will accept the credits. Also, be sure to keep copies of your syllabi, as this is how many evaluate the transfer of credits.
Online vs. In-person. For many military families, online classes are perfect. They allow you to work from anywhere, and if you PCS five times or more it is no big deal. That doesn’t mean it is right for everyone. Know yourself. If you cannot prioritize schoolwork without attending a classroom setting, or have an issue staying self-motivated, online classes might not be right for you.
Professors. You need to know your access to professors. The professors often are your references as you enter a career field. You should also find out the education and experience level of your professors. Some schools focus on academic achievement, while others prefer professors who have real-world experience. Know your own preference.
Length of Classes. I consider two things here, how long a class lasts on a calendar, and the length of time you spend in a classroom. Consider calendar length. Some schools have six or eight-week sessions, and others have four month or semester sessions. Each has its benefits. When it comes to classroom time, know your limits for time in the classroom. I can only stand an hour in a lecture setting, but in a discussion or lab three or four hours is acceptable. Everyone has his or her own limits.
This seems to be obvious, but I wanted to add it because the cost is not always what it seems. For example, many private schools (and some larger state schools) have large endowments that can provide financial assistance. Some schools have a strong financial aid section that will really work with you to help you find scholarships. Know that the moment you PCS to a new state, you and your family should be able to receive in-state tuition at your new location.
- Reputation in your Field
Not every college is going to be strong in every major. Do your research. Talk to a number of people in the profession, and ask which schools are well respected. Does your college or university have a student professional organization for your field? How big is the department? What are the qualifications of the professors in the department? Have they published or given professional talks in their field? These are all things you may want to consider.
- Internship Opportunities
Internships are becoming more important. This is a great way to get experience in the field and provide you with a leg up as you search for that first full-time job in your field of study. Find out what types of programs your department has for internships or externships. Do they help place you, provide guidance, or leave it up to you? How much assistance do they provide? Where have others had internships?
- Career Services
Career services vary vastly. Some colleges provide extensive career counseling and job search services, while others have one counselor for thousands of students. A few colleges offer no services for those attending on-line, but offer a plethora for those attending in person. Services may be available to alumni. Check to see what types of job postings are on the site and ask these questions. Much of this can be seen on the college or university’s website.
- Student Activities
It is important to get involved. Research has proved a greater percentage of students complete their education when they are involved. It may feel awkward if you are an older student, but try to find things you are passionate about related to your future career, and get involved. Some schools even have organizations specifically for veterans, older students, and military families. At a minimum, find a professional club to join. It shows your passion for your field. Do not neglect this area just because you are a non-traditional student.
- Alumni Connections
Networking is key in any job search. Many schools have strong alumni networking programs and alumni chapters throughout the country. It is not just the big name schools either. Networking will be key in your job search, and alumni can help point you in the right direction and provide mentorship.
In the end, it is up to you. There is no right set of schools for everyone. Bottom line, know yourself and what works for you. Do not let someone talk you into something you know is not a good fit. You are going to be investing quite a bit of time, energy, and money. It will be worth the time and effort to make an educated choice and know you have the right fit.