This is an article by Michelle Kretzschmar of DIY College Rankings.
There are over 3,000 four-year colleges in the United States. How do you begin to find the good colleges to which a student should apply? To a certain extent, the definition of “good” will vary from student to student. However, there are seven things you should a college look for in determining if a college is a good “fit”.
1. A good college must be one you can afford.
Finding colleges you like and worrying about how you will pay for them later is a bad idea. Families need to know how much they can afford. College Inside Track will help you and your family determine the cost. The truth is that there are some colleges that you may be interested in that may just be too expensive. Fortunately, there are many other great schools that are affordable. Don’t get stuck on only one college especially if it will be too expensive!
2. A good college should have a good four-year graduation rate.
“Good” is relative in this situation. A Minnesota State University or College or out of state public institution is not likely going to have the same graduation rate as many private colleges. Also some private colleges have very low 4 year graduation rates so be sure to look closely at the rates.
Set a baseline four-year graduation rate of 65% or more for private colleges and use the five-year rate for public schools. If a college does not meet these minimum requirements, you had better have a very good reason for keeping it on your list of good colleges such as a unique program or excellent financial aid.
Also, if a public or private institution has a lower 4 year graduation rate than other colleges make sure you calculate the cost of attendance for 5 years and compare it to the cost at a school that you are likely to graduate in 4 years. Sometimes a lower yearly cost of attendance will cost more if you take 5 years to graduate when compared to a slightly higher yearly cost at a school where you are likely to graduate in 4 years. All this information can be found in College Inside Track’s college planner
Once you start narrowing down your choices, compare your preferred colleges’ graduation rates to similar schools. Your College Inside Track college planner & search tool has the graduation rate for each college so be sure to look at it.
3. A good college should have a high percentage of full-time faculty.
Part-time faculty will not be conducting research on campus that can involve students. They may not be around by graduation for letters of recommendation. They probably don’t have the time or knowledge to act as advisors to students on campus concerning future class choices or employment opportunities.
There are certain areas where you might expect to see more part-time faculty. These are areas where bringing in a practicing professional adds to the students’ experience. This includes areas such as music, business, and education.
4. A good college will have small classes.
The smaller the class size, the better the graduation rate. Of course, not everyone can afford to attend a college with an average student to faculty ratio of 7 to 1. However, beyond the introductory level, class sizes should decline as students move into upper division classes. This is why simply looking at the average student faculty ratio is not very helpful. Class size will vary by course level and many times, by department as well. Check the course schedules for actual class size of upper-division classes.
5. A good college will have a strong campus culture.
The college should have elements to promote community and a sense of belonging between the students. These should include elements of the following:
- Availability of on-campus housing. Requiring students to live on campus as a freshman is usually a good thing. The higher the percentage of students living on campus, the higher the graduation rate.
- First year experiences that provide academic experiences with a small group of freshman help to establish a group of peers.
- Learning Communities offer students with similar interests to be assigned to some of the same required courses and living areas.
- Intramural and campus activities provide students with the opportunities to interact with other students on campus outside the classroom.
6. A good college will have a demonstrated track record of job placement for graduates.
The college career center should provide you with the number of graduates that have been placed in jobs after graduation or are attending graduate school. Be sure to ask questions about the statistics such as how many students are employed full-time and in their desired field.
The presence of major employers recruiting on-campus isn’t always the best indicator for future employment. It’s a numbers issue, it’s simply more efficient to recruit at large campuses. However, that doesn’t mean all students are finding employment.
7. A good college’s programs will be accredited.
Majors such as nursing, teaching, and engineering have specific organizations that accredit programs for the state and national levels. For professional programs that require passing state or national exams to practice, check the college’s pass rate for the exams. Some institutions will have dramatically higher pass rates than others.