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"There's so many important factors in choosing a college that will work for you. The atmosphere at the university and the community that it's in and the people that are there. What city is it in? What part of the country is it in? What's it like to live there? But it's different for everyone. It ranges from financial, to the climate, to the types of students that are there, to the programs that are offered at the school."

Louisiana State University


Online Resources: Get Help Finding a School

The U.S. Department of Education has some helpful online tools:

college q&a:    click to expand
"Not at all! Your choice depends on what type of job or position or path you want to take after college. There are also people who first obtain their associate's degree and then go back to school in the future to finish with a Bachelor's or advanced degree."

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Kinds of Schools: Set Your Course

The school you choose needs to fit your interests, career goals, your financial situation and other factors (see the Find the Right Fit section below). Schools fall into these basic types:

  • Public versus private. Public schools are operated by state and local governments. Tuition is often less at a public school. Private schools are not affiliated with a government organization. They may be non-profit, such as colleges run by private foundations or religious denominations. Or, they may be for-profit businesses, such as many career, trade or technical schools.
  • Four-year colleges and universities. These can offer bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees, and sometimes include professional schools, like law school or medical school. Universities tend to be larger than colleges.
  • Two-year community and junior colleges. These offer two-year associate degrees and sometimes certifications in particular career fields, like nursing. Because their costs are often lower and admission is more open, many students start their college careers here.
  • Career, technical, vocational or trade schools. These prepare students for specific careers, such as welding, cosmetology, medical imaging and electronics assembly. Their programs may be two years or less. Many of these schools are for-profit businesses. Do lots of research to make sure they can deliver what they promise.

No matter what kind of school you choose, it is important to make sure the school is accredited (see Factors to Consider, below). It is also a good idea to check with the Better Business Bureau closest to where the school is located.

Programs and Degrees by Type of School and
Time to Graduate
Program or degree: Schools where offered: Typical time to graduate:
Technical, trade or vocational courses Career, technical, vocational, or trade schools; community and junior colleges 1-2 years of study
Associate Degree Community and junior colleges 2 years of study
Bachelor's Degree Four-year colleges and universities 4 years of study
Master's Degree Four-year colleges and universities Bachelor's degree + 1-2 years of additional study
Doctorate Degree Four-year colleges and universities Bachelor's degree + Master's degree +2-3 years of additional study


Need More Help? Find a local college that can answer your questions.


Factors to Consider: Find the Right Fit

Things to think about as you look for schools:

  • Cost. What will your total annual costs be, including tuition and fees, room and board, books, travel and other expenses? Does the school participate in the federal student aid programs? The College Navigator listed in the Online Resources section above can help you find out.
  • Location. This is a biggie. Do you move away or not? If you decide you might go to a school away from home, factor in the cost of traveling to and from school for holiday and semester breaks.
  • On campus or off. If you go to a school nearby, do you want to live at home, in an on-campus dorm/residence hall or in private, off-campus housing? If you attend a school away from home, do you want to live in an on-campus dorm or in private housing? These decisions may require you to balance cost versus other factors, such as your independence and lifestyle.
  • Size. Do you want a small, intimate setting? A school that's big enough to be a city by itself? Or something in between?
  • Majors and concentrations offered. If you have an idea of what you want to study, does the school offer that major? Does their program have a good reputation? If you aren't sure what you want to study, does the school give you plenty of options?
  • Flexibility. If you need to work full-time while you go, does the school have night courses or other options to accommodate you? Will they let you go part-time? Do they offer summer courses?
  • Admission requirements. What academic standards (grade point average, required courses, etc.) do you have to meet in high school to get in? Which tests will you have to take?
  • Accreditation. Is the school accredited? An accredited school meets certain standards set by an independent agency. Accreditation helps ensure the training and education you receive will meet the standards of employers in a specific field. You can use the U.S. Department of Education's Institution Accreditation Search Page to check a particular school's accreditation or to find an accredited school in a particular field or location.
  • Campus life. Does the school offer activities and social opportunities you like?
  • Religious affiliation. Do you want to attend a school associated with a particular religion?
  • Diversity. Will you feel comfortable with the makeup of the student body?
  • Career services. Does the school have programs with a good track record for helping graduates find good jobs?

College Fairs: Talk to School Representatives

At college fairs, you can meet representatives from multiple schools without traveling far from home. They can tell you about their schools and answer your questions. Ask your high school counselor about college fairs in your area. You can also use these links to find college fairs near you: