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Which School is Better? Make Sure You Choose Wisely.

When comparing different colleges, things are rarely apples-to-apples. One school might have a great academic program, while another might offer the extracurricular activities you enjoy. Rankings vary depending on a variety of criteria, which makes it difficult to determine which school is better. Before you make a decision, it’s important to understand the different ranking systems, the various types of schools, and some of the most important elements of college life.

The Nuts and Bolts of Ranking

For decades, the U.S. News and World Report college ranking system was the definitive guide to finding a great school. Now, students have a much wider array of ranking options. Playboy Magazine releases an annual list of the best party schools, and Money Magazine recently started its own list ranking best value versus cost. Ultimately, all of these rankings can help guide your college search, but they should never be the final factor. There are too many data points available to make any single college ranking system definitive. You need to look at a variety of sources to help narrow the search and choose the better school.

What Type of School Do You Want?

Keep in mind that discussions about schools are usually just about post-secondary education in general. This can include four-year colleges, two-year colleges, or trade/vocational schools. It’s important to understand the differences between these types of schools before you submit applications.

Four-year Colleges and Universities: These tend to offer the most options for degree programs and often include graduate programs. If you’re uncertain of your eventual career path, the availability of a variety of majors and programs can be an important factor in choosing a school. Of course, four-year colleges also tend to come with the highest price tag per academic year, so you pay for the privilege.

Two-Year Colleges: Sometimes referred to as junior colleges, these institutions typically offer both associate degrees and certification programs for direct career entry. After completing a two-year degree program, you can transfer to a four-year program at another school. This helps to defray costs, as two-year schools often offer dramatically reduced rates.

Trade/Vocational Schools: These schools offer direct entry into a career, but career paths may be very narrow and credits typically do not transfer. If you change your mind, you may have wasted a considerable amount of time and money.

Top 3 Considerations when Choosing a School

Three factors will probably top your list when narrowing down your school choices.

Final Cost: The tuition package and financial aid offered by each school will play an important part in your decision-making process. Your top school might require you to take out significant student loans, while your second-choice school might offer a more attractive financial aid package.

Student Housing: If you don’t enjoy living on campus or in the surrounding area, you may not want to attend classes. A poor living environment will result in poor academic performance, so evaluate your housing options.

Available Programs: Colleges change the degree programs they offer on an annual basis. If your preferred program is not available, that college is not for you.

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