When it comes to getting a college education, there are more options than ever. Therefore, it is a really good idea not to limit your choices to just Ivy League, private, or public schools. Keep all your options open! Here are some tips that can help you make this important decision.

Tip 1. Understand what your individual needs are.

It seems like a silly question but you need to ask yourself, Why am I going to college? What are my strengths and weaknesses? Do I have enough discipline to study on my own and have no curfew? Or should I live near home so that I can rely on the guidance of my parents? Would I thrive at a big school with thousands of students? Or do I need to attend small classes and have closer relationships with my professors? Is college even the right choice for me? Would I be better served by a trade school?

Talk with your family, friends, and counselors. If you are not sure what kind of environment you need to be successful, the people close to you will be able to give you great advice.

Tip 2. Think about the type of school that will fit your personality.

Do not choose a college simply because it is close to home or because it ranks high on a list of some kind. College is about finding out who you are and what you need. Visit the web sites of all the colleges that are of interest to you. Universities are just like people, every different college will have its own strengths and weaknesses. So find out what makes each campus and classroom experience unique. Contact the different admissions offices and schedule tours. Or even better, see if you can contact current students in your area of study and find out directly what their experience has been like.

Tip 3. Realize that bigger is not always better.

Many great colleges have small student populations. Fewer students can translate into smaller classrooms, more hands-on involvement, and more face-time with professors. Your area of study should help you to determine if this is an important issue to you. Are you looking to be involved in a small student community? Or are you the type of person who can quickly make friends and connections everywhere. To some degree, the size of the college you choose will determine your overall experience.

Tip 4. It does not always pay to go to a big name school.

Some schools, like the Ivy League colleges, may offer some students a leg-up when they are looking to make connections in the real world. But just as often, success in life has more to do with the experiences and opportunities you developed while in college.

Name-brand colleges will usually only get you so far. Employers and graduate schools are also looking at your skills and personal experience. As you look at different colleges, find out more about student outcomes. How many graduates find jobs in their respective fields? What kind of job search support does the school offer its graduates?  You may find that less-well known colleges that outperform some of the more famous schools.

Tip 5. It is OK if you do not know what your major will be.

Not many high school students are ready to choose a major. Your early college coursework should help you to determine your interest and aptitude in different areas of study. In fact, many college students change their mind a few times before settling on a major. Being undecided is not necessarily a bad thing. It can open your world to new experiences.

Tip 6. Do not assume that you cannot afford college. You can.

Do not make the mistake and think that the cost of college is out of reach. The fact of the matter is that some sort of financial aid is available to nearly every family, regardless of income. If you find a school that you like, do not worry too much about the price of tuition. The financial aid office at the school can help you find out how to make everything fit within your budget.

But having said that, do not assume that all financial aid debt is good debt. If you accept student loans, keep close track of how much you have borrowed, understand what your monthly student loan payments will be, and have an idea of how much money you will be making after you graduate. If you are pursuing a liberal arts degree, keep your income expectations realistic and never borrow more than you can comfortably repay.

Tip 7. Do you feel too stressed and confused to choose a college? It is also OK to wait.

Keep in mind that after high school, you are on your schedule. If you do not feel ready for college, there is nothing wrong with waiting. You might consider a year off to work or travel. Those experiences can make you a better more rounded student. Even if you have already been accepted to a school, you may be able to defer your admission. Talk to your admissions office.

Tip 8. Visit as many different schools as possible.

When you visit a campus, try to discover the student experience at that school. Visit the library. Sit in on a few classes. Eat in the dining hall and visit the student center. Imagine yourself as part of the student population.

It is also a great idea to talk to students and find out if they would make the same choice if they had to do it all over again. You may be surprised by the answers you get!

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