For high school students, it’s the most important investment they’ll make in their future. Picking the right college shouldn’t be done overnight. Two experts – OU’s executive director of Recruitment Services, Andy Roop, and Oklahoma City University’s associate director of Admissions, Kendall Ellexson – offer tips for students searching for the right colleges and universities.

It’s no surprise that academic programs topped both of the experts’ lists. If a college doesn’t offer the knowledge or training a student seeks, what’s the point? “For students, the issue that rises to the top every time should be academics,” says Roop. Students that choose schools that aren’t an academic match for them are wasting time and money.

It’s hard for high school students to know what they plan to do with the rest of their lives. They may not be able to answer that question, but they should get as close to an answer as they can. “Your major is the reason you’re going to school and has everything to do with what you plan to do with your career. Students should be looking at their major and make sure it’s what they’re interested in. Then they should make sure the school has other options available. Academically, a good school will have a little bit of everything,” says Ellexson. A school with academic range will give students room to maneuver if their interests and career plans change.

College isn’t cheap. Even students without a good handle on their career ambitions need to take a close look at the future value of their degrees. “We encourage students to think about that very seriously. The last thing we want to do is encourage a student to come to college, go into a degree program that provides a lower salary and graduate with a financial burden that follows them for years,” says Roop. 

The second consideration that showed up on experts’ lists is a natural: financial aid. It changes the math when it comes to weighing a degree’s value against future income. “We want to make sure we’re helping students find every opportunity to help with the costs of their educations. We reach out and encourage prospective students to file financial aid applications so we can help them look at the cost of their educations,” says Roop.

“We believe 100 percent that if students are having a great time in school, it is much easier for them to do what they need to do to succeed.

“College is a more diverse environment than high school. Outside activities give students the opportunity to challenge themselves and move outside their comfort zones. It’s also a way for students to have a blast while working on the reason they’re here: academics.”

There is, after all, more to college than just studying. Finding a balance between academics and enjoying themselves makes students better performers.

According to Ellexson, one often-overlooked characteristic of universities is size. “A lot of students have an idea of what they think college is. But the truth is that size affects the entire experience. Students should be looking at this when they visit prospective schools. Some students are comfortable with a large school and know they’ll get what they need from it. For the student that wants more of a one-on-one experience and really get to know their professors and other students, a smaller environment is the way to go,” she says.

Both Roop and Ellexson agree that this list could be expanded considerably. But these five areas make up the core of any student’s search for the right college. If they’re nailed down during the college search, students are more than half of the way toward success at school and, ultimately, a fulfilling job career after graduation.

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