After graduation from high school, it’s on to the next step: college. Choosing which college or university to attend can be a monumental decision prospective students and their parents may have been anticipating for many years or may have just decided to start saving money to fund. Regardless, keep these things in mind when choosing the right school.

“I think it is important to ask yourself what you are looking for first and foremost,” says Amanda Castro, director of Prospective Student Services at the University of Oklahoma.

For example, Castro says, “What size of classes will I feel most comfortable in? How many of my classes will be large, lecture style classes? Will there be a challenging academic environment for me?

“You’d be surprised to see how many schools have only a limited number of large classes,” says Castro.[pullquote]Knowing what programs the university offers, as well as the quality of those programs, is an important factor when choosing the right school.[/pullquote]

Additionally, some students may find the college environment challenging, whereas others are looking for an environment that would include an honors college, Castro adds.

“Don’t simply ask things like, ‘How is your English department?’ or, ‘How is your pre-med program?’” says Castro.

The more specific your questions are the better, she says.

“It is hard for a school to effectively communicate the answer you are looking for when they get a vague question,” she continues.

Financial questions should come into play, adds Castro. This may determine what kind of school to pursue, as public versus private school tuition can vary widely.

In accordance with the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, a Net Price Calculator should be accessible on each prospective school’s website.

“This handy tool will help you get a picture of what it could cost for you to attend college,” says Castro.

Susan Tolbart, the director of Academic Services and Recruitment at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, explains that knowing what programs the university offers, as well as the quality of those programs, is an important factor when choosing the right school.

“The type of degree and quality of the university can have a major impact on long-term job earnings,” says Tolbart.

Both Tolbart and Castro agree that in addition to questions on the quality of programs and tuition, questions geared toward campus safety and housing options should also be high on the list.

“Public colleges and universities should publish campus crime statistics online each year under the provisions of the Clery Act,” says Tolbart.

Originally known as the Campus Security Act, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (20 USC § 1092(f)) requires colleges and universities across the country to disclose information about crime on and around campuses.

“Student safety should be a priority on every campus,” says Castro.

If it’s not, your money will be better spent elsewhere, she adds.

Housing selection is an important aspect of choosing the right college, says Castro. Campus housing should provide students with a vibrant community in which to live, and many times the students have several selections to choose from.

When looking at options for schools, prospective student and their parents must take into account their goals, lifestyle and pocketbook.

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