How to Begin the College Search

Beginning the college search can be intimidating. There are in-state schools, private colleges and Ivy Leagues to consider. Which schools are the best? If you’re just starting on this exciting journey, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Your Major: You want to pay attention to your interests and passions while also thinking practically. Consider how much you’ll be earning in your chosen career and how long it will take you to start earning a good salary. You’ll need to start repaying your student loans almost immediately, so a career that offers good job prospects is important. Right now, high-paying jobs exist in fields such as engineering, sciences, medicine, law and other fields. STEM careers also have many high-paying opportunities.
  • Different Schools’ Reputations: Although there are lists published every year of which schools have the best reputation, don’t rely on rankings alone. Instead, consider the reputation and quality of the programs that interest you. For example, if you’re going into law, consider which schools have excellent law programs. Try to talk to professors, if you can, and go on campus visits to see what the atmosphere is like. Speak to former students to get a sense of what attending a specific college was like.
  • Location: How far away from home do you want to be? Where you go to school will affect the cost of your education, but also your happiness level. Would you prefer to get a fresh start somewhere completely new or do you like the idea of being close to friends and family in your hometown? Consider these questions before you start applying.
  • Costs: You may like the idea of an Ivy League education, but can you pay for that education? It may make more sense to go to a more affordable school with a decent reputation and enjoy lower student loan payments. Carefully weigh your options, thinking about both the quality and cost of your education. Contact the financial aid office at each school you’re interested in to discuss financial options. Some schools have better bursaries, scholarships and financial support than others, and going to a school that will offer you financial aid can help lower your costs and the size of your student loans.
  • Your Strengths and Weaknesses: Even if you like the idea of going to a top school, do you have the SAT scores, GPA and resume to get in? Which schools are interested in attracting and recruiting you? These may be the schools where you feel more comfortable and get the best financial aid.

The reputation of your school will follow you for many years of your career, but so will your student debt. Use the Money Help Center college affordability calculator to figure out how much college will really cost so you can start saving and finding resources to pay right now.