Generally speaking, students have a pretty clear idea about what they are looking for in a school. I know I did — and I didn’t find it at the first school that I attended...or the second. What I did discover, however, was a series of misunderstandings that repeatedly landed me in colleges I was less than satisfied with. My story is not uncommon: Thousands of first-year college students find each year that they wound up choosing a school that just wasn't right for them.
Higher education comes in many forms. It can be obtained at a small liberal arts college, an enormous state university, or even at a publicly-funded community college. During my four years of college, I tried all three flavors of education and learned a good deal about the differences between each, both positive and negative. If you are dissatisfied with the university you have ended up in, or are a high school student trying to prevent paying tuition at the wrong university, explore the differences between these three categories before narrowing your selection.
Private colleges have a number of benefits that cannot be found elsewhere. They are academically challenging and student focused. Most private colleges have a common thread (critical thinking, technological advancement) that is woven through their entire curriculum. When looking at a private university, determine what their common thread is so that you can ensure their goals are as important to you as they are central to their curriculum.
Private colleges tend to be smaller; such a school will pose incredible challenges for wall flowers as there are fewer social networks to choose from. Because of their size and the cost of tuition, their class size also tends to be smaller. For students who occasionally ditch out on a class, this is not the type of college for you: Professors are intensely involved in the academic lives of their students and their help is easy to access but they expect you to attend there class regularly. In regards to cost, private colleges are the highest, however, the excellent scholarships they offer offset the price of tuition. If you are short in financial assistance but have a knockout G.P.A. and stand up standardized test scores, you should still consider applying to a private college.
They have a bad reputation, I know. The slogan for CLC, the junior college that I attended, was College of Last Chance. Cute, and I must say incredibly motivating. Ignore the snickers from your friends attending "real" universities; there is nothing wrong with a community college. In fact, community colleges give you the opportunity to attend college, get class credit and choose a major, and find the college that is right for you all for a small tuition fee. Typically, community schools only offer two-year degrees, so you will get the opportunity to attend a four-year university.
A common myth about community schools is that they employ less than first rate staff. Not true. Most of the professors that I encountered were incredibly accomplished academics. Many of these individuals choose to work at a community school because the employment is usually part-time and very flexible. Junior college is a great option for students who haven't chosen a major or those who aren't sure that college is right for them. Most students with a part-time job can afford to pay for a junior college themselves — great news if finances are a major concern.
State schools are a good option for most students as their tuition is reasonable and their classes are challenging. Keep in mind that they are very large and this can be a difficult environment for some students to adapt to. It doesn't take long before the feeling of anonymity sets in at a state school: You'll rarely recognize the faces on the sidewalk, know your classmates or be familiar with your professors.
The positives of attending state schools, however, include access to a number of campus groups (these extracurricular activities can land you great scholarships for graduate school!) as well as benefits that kick in even after graduation. Alumni associations and career services advisers are extremely useful resources, especially if you're looking for a job in the state the school is located in. You may even end up interviewing with someone who shares your alma mater!
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