February 19, 2018
In an information age where most queries can be answered with a simple internet search, there's no one-size-fits-all solution when deciding how to choose a college. In reality, there are many considerations when exploring options and finding the "right fit" for your education goals.
A 2017 article by USA TODAY COLLEGE lists its top-10 factors when choosing a college as follows:
Southern New Hampshire University Assistant Vice President for Undergraduate Admissions Melissa Morgan said her experience reveals the most important element for potential students to consider is what they need, personally, to be successful.
"They should think about what they hope to experience while in college," she said. "This is different for everyone. Some need additional support in the classroom, some need a writing center, some enjoy extracurricular activities, socializing and networking. Other students enjoy having go-to people at the university to help build their support system, encourage them, and give them confidence when they encounter challenges along the way. They want to find a college that will provide when they need it most and deliver a positive, memorable experience."
Morgan, who has overseen undergraduate admissions at SNHU for the last two years and graduate admissions the three years prior, said there are a number of online tools available, such as bigfuture.collegeboard.org, that are designed to help students gain specific information on campus housing, programs, environment, cost, support services, and diversity.
Still, Morgan, who has spoken with hundreds of potential students and academic advisors over the years, said choosing the right college, like most other major decisions in life, often comes down to time and price.
"Students value their time and they recognize education as an investment," she said. "They want to make sure they can stay motivated to complete their program and that they have a plan to pay for their education so that does not become a cause for them to give up on their dreams. Students should feel confident in working with the financial services team at the college to get their questions answered, gain a clear understanding of how much college costs, and be supported with a plan to repay loans when applicable."
Another pertinent decision, one relatively new to this generation, is the choice between an online and on-campus education.
"From my perspective I think students that are seeking the coming-of-age experience and want to gain independence and life experience are naturally drawn toward campus," said Morgan. "They recognize the time commitment and expect to put their education as their top priority. They may also be interested in the opportunities provided by the various clubs, organizations, and athletic groups."
Online education, on the other hand, often attracts students with additional commitments while they pursue their degrees. Similar to those who seek brick-and-mortar institutions, students desiring an online learning environment have a number of questions to consider, most notably, according to U.S. News and World Reports:
"We tend to see more students that are employed part time or full time and balancing families," said Morgan. "We will also see students that are changing careers or seeking advancement. They require programs and support with gaining the skills and knowledge needed for the positions they have in mind."
According to a 2017 report from Babson Survey Research Group, the number of distance education students, or students enrolled in at least one course outside a traditional classroom environment, increased 5.6% from 2015 to 2016, while the number of on-campus students decreased by nearly 1.2 million students, a 6.4% drop during that same period.
"I believe the value lies in the education and the instructional method should match the student's needs," said Morgan. "Understanding the needs of the student, their goals, their experience with education, as well as their current commitments, is crucial when advising them on which avenue to pursue. The student should choose what works in their life, will help them reach their goals, and provide them support to keep going; in some cases that may even be a combination of both online and on campus."
A hybrid education method is a popular compromise among modern students, with 16.7% of 2016 students enrolled in both distance and traditional classroom courses, according to data from the Babson report, which also noted that 52.8% of students who took at least one online course also enrolled in an on-campus course.
Though 56.1% of online students are still enrolled within their home state, being able to enroll in schools anywhere in the country is a natural convenience allowed by the online college boom. Morgan said that's a positive for students because it expands their options when choosing where they'll obtain their post-secondary degree.
"We have students from all over the country. I would imagine the same holds true for other colleges that offer an online component," she said. "I think part of the reason we see that is because our tuition doesn't change for our online out-of-state students. Online education allows for students to explore colleges they may otherwise not have looked at simply because they are out of state."
Pete Davies is a marketing and communications director in higher education. Follow him on Twitter @daviespete or connect on LinkedIn.
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