Choosing the Right College: What Should Be the Most Important Deciding Factor?

Choosing the Right College: What Should Be the Most Important Deciding Factor?With college costs so high in the U.S., the findings of a 2013 Gallup poll may surprise many people who assume that tuition rate is the most important factor in making a college choice. Only 37% of respondents cited the price of college as a dominant decision maker, while 41% said that graduating with the ability to get a good job was most important to them.

Money still plays a huge role in choosing colleges, but this now seems to manifest itself as a preoccupation with graduate salary expectations. However, many current and prospective students also cite factors like the individual benefits of the education they’ll receive, available career development programs, and access to online classes as being just as crucial as price when choosing their college.

Personal benefits of higher education

In a New York Times article published earlier this year, Frank Bruni challenged prospective college students to consider schools in terms of how they’ll personally benefit from the experience. For example, for those interested in earning degrees with an international flavor like business and finance, Bruni cites the size of a college’s international student body as an indicator of its global outlook. Looking at study abroad opportunities can also give you a good idea of a college’s worldly scope.

Career development
As the Gallup poll indicates, career development is highly important to most college students. Many colleges offer co-op or internship programs to their enrolled students (some examples programs that offer these experiences can be found here and here), allowing opportunities for on-site job experience before graduation. This can be especially invaluable to adults going back to school to make a significant career change. For some students, the job-related opportunities and training received at school can also offset higher tuition costs.

Choosing the Right College: What Should Be the Most Important Deciding Factor?Online education
Studying online, especially for non-traditional students with families, jobs, and other commitments, is often a huge priority in college selection. For those who won’t be able to make it to campus several times a week for class, online classes are lifesavers. The care given to online learners at certain schools may sway students in attendance decisions, and that’s reflected by studies that indicate that online education is part of a growing proportion of colleges’ current or future strategies. For many students who would previously have been restricted in choice to the closest or cheapest college, online education opens up several new doors. Transferable credits may play an important role in your decision—if in doubt, college admissions offices are available year-round to answer these types of questions.

Choosing the right college is a hugely important decision at any age, and there’s no one factor that can be used to seal the deal for every student. Whether you immediately fall in love with a program or agonize for hours over graduate employment rankings, the end choice should be all about you and your individual priorities and preferences. The only one-size-fits-all advice you can really give is to never let anyone else make the decision for you.

Get some more help making sure you make the right college choice for you with this free worksheet.


  • The fact that as many as 41% said that graduating with the ability to get a good job was most important to them indicate that good online education options are very important. Online education is ideal for non-traditional adult students, as you can study at your own pace, and select the best courses from around the world, without leaving your home, or physical attending an education institute is not practical.

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