High School Series Part 4 -How to Choose a College
January 1, 2014

The last few months of your senior year of high school are a time of celebration and excitement about your future but it’s also the time to think long-term about what you want from life, and if you aren’t sure what you want to be when you grow up, that’s all the more reason to be circumspect when you select a college. Here are some of the things we recommend you consider to fully understand the cost-benefit of your college choice and how to make the wisest decision.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Depending on what you want to do for a career, this should inform your college choice if you’re looking to a specialty field like engineering that most schools can’t cover. If you’re interested in teaching or other public service work, graduating deep in debt isn’t wise even if you think you can try for Public Service Loan Forgiveness to discharge it. There’s no guarantee that program will still be in place when you graduate and if you later change your mind about your major, you’ll be stuck with that debt.

Careers with above-average wages may be a safer bet for taking on student loans, but if you have two equitable choices and one will result in borrowing less, that’s the one to take. There’s no reason to go needlessly into debt when you can come out of school with fewer student loans to contend with. Average salaries for those with college degrees have been dropping so it’s wise not to count on big bucks as a barrier to your debt.

What If You Don’t Know What You Want to Be?

If you have no clue what you want to do with your life, choosing a school that will encourage you to borrow more just doesn’t make sense. No one can blame you for not knowing at 17 or 18 years old what you want to do for the rest of your life and trying to force this decision won’t help. Instead, embrace your indecision and consider low-cost community college or the school that will allow you to minimize (or eliminate) taking out student loans.

This will give you breathing room to take your core courses, sample some internship opportunities and give yourself time to develop interests that can guide you toward a profession. Piling on debt when you’re unsure what you want doesn’t make sense. Once your course is determined, you can always transfer schools if your lower-cost option doesn’t offer the major you’re considering.

Factors that influence college choice

Think about why you’re choosing a certain university before you do
Image source: NYTimes.com

Apply the Right Yardstick to the Decision

Some people choose their school based on ratings, or on family tradition, or on the urge to get as far away from home as possible to explore new adventures. In reality though, unless your family can afford to cover the cost of your school 100%, you need to prioritize dollars in your decision making process. Every state has great colleges that will get you on the road to where you want to be without saddling you with crippling debt.

You must consider the cost-benefit of your decision beyond the short run when you want to brag that you got into the school of your dreams. But if you get in over your head with student loans, that dream can turn nightmare later in life. Unfortunately, a college degree is not a guarantee of a particular outcome and you need to take a harsh look at the downsides of debt before you commit to borrowing.

The Bottom Line on College Choice

This is a very personal decision that every prospective college student must make based on their unique circumstances. If you feel you must go to a certain college no matter the ultimate cost, that’s your choice to make. And for those that equate community college to thrift store shopping, you may turn your back on this low-cost alternative that can be a great way to get started off debt-free.

Before you jump into student loans, we invite you to read through our blog to see the ups and downs of student loans so you can make an informed decision about getting into debt for college. Also, sign up for a free account with Tuition.io to get email updates on new blogs and if you do choose to borrow for school, our free student loan management tool is here to help you deal with your debt.

Read all of our blog series for High School students:

High School Series Part 1 – Understanding College Costs

High School Series Part 2 – Applying for Financial Aid and Scholarships

High School Series Part 3 – Evaluating Financial Aid Packages

High School Series Part 4 – How to Choose a College

High School Series Part 5 – Strategies to Minimize Borrowing

High School Series Part 6 – Understanding Debt: Federal vs Private Student Loans