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What is the right college for you? The answers may surprise you

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 11th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

How does one pick the college that is right for you, or for your potential college student? There are many colleges out there that offer different courses for different career goals. In many instances, choosing the right college may depend on location and affordability. Experts say that many times, deciding on the right college often depends on external circumstances.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - First off, it is desirable if the student is aware of who they are and what they need. Why have you decided to attend college? Is it in pursuit of a career goal? What do you want out of life - something tangible or intangible?

Are you socially self-sufficient or do you need warm, familial support? Talk with your family, friends and high-school counselors as you ask these questions.

Furthermore, your college does not have to be bigger than your high school. College is a time to explore, and a smaller community is more conducive to internal exploration. It is not the number of people, but the people themselves and the kind of community in which you will learn that really matters.

It's important to remember that a name-brand college will not guarantee your success. "Think about the people in your life who are happy and successful and find out where (and if) they went to college," columnist Martha O'Connell writes. "You will likely find that success in life has less to do with the choice of college than with the experiences and opportunities encountered while in college, coupled with personal qualities and traits."

Surprisingly, you don't have to let your major choose your college. Very few high-school students have enough information or experience to choose a major. "You need the variety and depth of college coursework to determine your interest and aptitude. Most college students change their minds two or three times before they settle on a major, and they can still graduate in four years. Being undecided is a good thing and will leave you open to more academic experiences."

Don't be intimidated by the cost of a higher education, O'Connell says. "If you make the assumption that you cannot afford college based on the 'sticker price' of tuition, you will miss out. It is difficult to talk about money, but if you investigate all the options and ask for help and advice, you will find affordable choices."

There's no reason to rush into college right after high school. "There is no such thing as the perfect time to start college. Some students benefit from a year off to work, study or travel, and these experiences allow them to be better, more engaged students."

Finally, the most important factor in choosing a college is fit. "Choosing a college because your friends are going there or because of where it ranks on a list does not take into account who you are and who you will become."

O'Connell recommends that if you have the time and inclination, to make an informal visit to the college you're considering enrolling in.

"When you visit, try to build in time to sit in on classes, eat in the dining hall and hang around in the student center or other high-traffic areas. That will help you imagine yourself as part of the community. Talk to a few students and ask if they would make the same college choice if they had to do it again. Go back to the first item in this list as you consider the information you've collected about the colleges. You will have great options!"

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