Beyond ROI: What Really Matters When Choosing a College



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College return on investment has been given a lot of attention lately, but for the average student, ROI isn’t the only important factor to consider when choosing a college. Income can be skewed by a few very high earners, while failing to reflect what most students can expect to earn. While return on investment is important, there are other things to consider when deciding on a university.

Rankings in Your Field of Study

The ranking of a college’s business program and the salaries of the school’s business graduates aren’t very relevant to a nursing student. While high rankings in a few areas can increase the overall prestige of a university and the earnings of certain graduates, it’s important to focus on your chosen field when comparing colleges. Even if you aren’t certain about your major, it’s likely you have some ideas. Look for schools that have high rankings and plenty of opportunities (research, internships, etc.) in your areas of interest.

Internship and Job Opportunities for All Graduates

Students from wealthy or well connected families will have great job opportunities upon graduation no matter which college they attend. But most students need help with job search skills and networking, so it’s important to find a school committed to helping all students develop successful careers. Does the school have a well-staffed career center? Does the college or your degree program have industry connections and a strong internship program?

Entering freshman often don’t consider career assistance and internship opportunities, but they may be the most pivotal parts of your college experience. And don’t take job placement or salary statistics at face value because, as with ROI, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Tuition and Financial Aid

A high priced college doesn’t guarantee a high salary job-or any job at all, so don’t choose a costly school thinking you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. It may be a better financial payoff to attend a less costly school and graduate without the burden of debt. A general rule is that your total loan amount should not exceed your expected first year salary. Of course, you should aim to take out as few loans as possible because even the best colleges and majors don’t guarantee a good job or high starting salary.

If you’re interested in a costly school, research scholarships-both general and school or major specific. Make an appointment to speak with a financial aid representative from the college to discuss all of your aid, work-study and scholarship options. For an extensive list of scholarships, read The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2014: Billions of Dollars in Scholarships, Grants and Prizes (Ultimate Scholarship Book: Billions of Dollars in Scholarships,)

Campus Culture

Every campus has a culture, and your sense of belonging can impact your satisfaction and success during college. Non-traditional students will have different needs and goals than full-time students. Personality, interests and values matter both when planning your career and when looking for the right college.

Choosing a college may be the most important career decision you make, so one or two numbers shouldn’t be the only deciding factors. What works for one student may not for another, so ask questions and do plenty of research before settling on a school.