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From vocational schools to online degree programs to public and private universities, there are more choices than ever for obtaining higher education. Settling on one, or even a handful of potential colleges can be daunting. “Best” means something different to everyone, so it’s helpful to approach the college search from many angles. Prospective students can use this page as a research launch pad to discover top schools in each state, get expert financial aid advice, and much more. They can also learn step-by-step how to narrow their options and find colleges that best meet their goals.

Research Top Colleges in Your State

College-bound students can begin researching schools in their state and others by using the dropdown menu or interactive map below. Select a state to compare average tuition and financial aid to the national average, learn about college planning programs and resources, and see which schools best prepare students for career success and financial stability after graduation.

Explore Online Colleges and Universities

Online education can allow students to attend colleges that align with their personal beliefs, interests and goals, even if those schools aren’t close to home. Those interested in online education can explore the guides listed below to explore the many colleges and universities available to them and learn more about successfully navigating the online education system.

Funding Your College Education

Taking advantage of financial aid can help to minimize both debt and stress. Filling out the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA®) is a good start, but students can also look to special interest organizations to help ease the financial burden of higher education. Research financial aid opportunities using the financial aid toolkit below.

College Student Resources

Prospective students may be interested in checking out these resource pages to further tailor their college research. We’ve rounded up the best college resources for LGBTQ students, veterans and active military, and students with disabilities. With the added help from these resources, students can maximize their potential in the classroom and beyond.

Search and Compare Accredited Colleges

Prospective students can use this tool to aid in their college search. Narrowing results by setting preferences for tuition, student population, degree type and more is a great way to filter out colleges that don’t hit the mark. The comparison feature gives a side-by-side analysis of up to four colleges with even deeper information on each school’s key attributes.

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Top 5 Reasons to Attend College

College can be a significant investment, and with so much talk about rising tuition costs and post-college debt, prospective students may wonder if college is really worth it. Here are some of the best reasons to get a college education:

Higher Wages

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the median earnings of young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 in 2014 was 66 percent higher for those with bachelor’s degrees compared to those with only a high school diploma.

1
Lower Risk of Unemployment

Not only can college graduates typically expect higher wages, they may also have better job security. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the unemployment rate for adults with bachelor’s degrees was 2.8 percent in 2015 compared to the 5.4 percent unemployment rate for those with high school diplomas alone.

2
Better Job Options

What classifies a job as a “good” job can vary from person to person, but a 2015 report by Georgetown University characterizes them as jobs that bring in earnings in the upper third of the occupations under which they are classified. This report also notes that of the 2.8 million “good jobs” out there, 2.9 million are held by individuals with bachelor’s degrees.

3
New Knowledge and Skills

Attaining career goals and job security alone are valid motives for going to college, but college is also a great opportunity to explore new interests and gain skills, whether career-related or not. An elective class may even become the basis for an unplanned education or career path.

4
Make Connections

Many people make connections that could help them professionally while attending college. According to a report published by Pew Research Center in 2015, 44 percent of Americans found that an established relationship was the most important tool in their job search.

5

3 Steps to Choosing the Best College for You

When sorting through colleges, prospective students should consider college type, quality of standards, and personal needs and goals. Aspiring students can often find college programs that are tailored to their career, education and lifestyle needs, but with so many choices, it can be hard to know where to begin. The steps below can help prospective students find the best college for them.

1
Select a College Type

Getting a quality education doesn’t have to mean studying at a university for four years. The traditional route can be an excellent opportunity for many, but some students may find that other types of institutions fit better with their education and career goals. Understanding college types and the best reasons to attend each can help students discover the school environment in which they will thrive.

Best Reasons to Attend Vocational/Trade School
  • Low Cost

    Because they typically focus on career education and forego many nonessential general education classes, vocational and trade schools often cost less than four-year colleges and universities.

  • Skill-Based Education

    Vocational and trade schools usually prioritize learning practical skills that can be directly applied in the workplace. Since employers can easily recognize these specific skillsets, graduates may have an easier time finding jobs in their fields.

  • Fast Results

    Vocational and trade college programs are often completed in two years or less, allowing students to quickly gain relevant skills and enter the workforce.

What to Look for in a Vocational/Trade School
  • High Retention Rates

    High retention rates are particularly important in vocational and trade schools where hands-on learning is key. A high-retention rate generally means students feel they are learning the skills they need to gain employment after graduation.

  • Experienced Instructors

    Top vocational and trade schools typically have instructors who are not only capable teachers, but who also have extensive professional experience in the fields they teach.

  • Job and/or Internship Placement Programs

    Either through instructors’ professional connections or through partnerships with local businesses, top vocational and trade schools are often able to help students make smooth transitions into the workforce through internship and job placement programs.

Best Reasons to Attend Community College
  • Accommodating to Non-Traditional Students

    Community colleges typically offer flexibility to all types of students, making higher education available to those who may work full time, have families or want to earn career credentials.

  • Saves Money

    Community college can help students save money in multiple ways. Since tuition is typically lower than four-year universities, students can take prerequisite courses inexpensively before transferring to a university, or they can earn associate degrees and certificates. The convenience of community colleges often means students can save money by living at home while also going to school.

  • Opportunities to Explore

    Students who aren’t sure if college is right for them or students who don’t know what area to study can use community college as a time to explore different educational paths before locking in on a major.

What to Look for in a Community College
  • Transfer Agreements

    Students should look for a community college that has transfer agreements with a university to ensure an easy transition if the student chooses to attend a university. Students can also feel confident that their community college is giving them an education that prepares them for university challenges.

  • Program Variety

    Quality community colleges offer students a variety of programs from which to choose, allowing them to earn the degree they want rather than settling for what may be available.

  • Career and Education Advising

    Since community college can be a great place to explore career and educational options, it’s important to pick a school that can provide some guidance and support.

Best Reasons to Attend a Public University
  • Many Degree Options

    Public universities tend to offer a wide range of degrees, typically making it easy for students to find an area of study that interests them.

  • Student Facilities and Activities

    Student housing, interest groups, athletics and facilities like gyms, libraries and healthcare centers are all great reasons to attend a public university.

  • Large Student Body

    Public colleges usually attract a lot of people from many walks of life. The large student populations common to public universities often mean greater diversity and more chances for social and professional networking.

What to Look for in a Public University
  • Broad Financial Aid Options

    Since most students who attend public universities use financial aid of some kind to pay for their schooling, the best schools for many students are those that offer significant financial aid options, including grants, scholarships, loans, work-study or similar programs, or a combination of these options.

  • Low Student-to-Faculty Ratio

    Public universities tend to have a large student population, oftentimes resulting in students getting lost in the shuffle. Public schools with low student-to-teacher ratios can offer more personal interactions with professors.

  • Extensive Student Resources

    Finding a public school that has quality resources available to its students is important. Top-tier public universities often have student resources like academic and counseling services.

Private, Nonprofit Universities
  • Niche Degree Programs or Special Interest Affiliations

    Students looking for schools with religious, military or ethnic affiliations may find they are best suited for private universities. Many private schools also cater to students who seek specialized degrees like those in religion or the arts.

  • Small Class Sizes

    Because enrollment is usually limited, private schools can offer extremely small class sizes, allowing students to establish strong relationships with their peers and instructors.

  • Close-Knit Networking

    Students enrolled in private universities may not only establish strong relationships with peers, but may also establish connections with alumni, who often stay connected to their alma mater.

What to Look for in a Private, Nonprofit University
  • Generous Scholarships

    Since private, nonprofit universities are not publicly funded, they are typically more expensive than their public counterparts. However, private universities often offer students significant merit-based scholarships to offset these costs.

  • Loyal Alumni

    Private colleges with loyal alumni indicate not only that graduates think highly of their alma maters and their experiences there, but such loyalty can also translate into better facilities and financial aid opportunities – often as a result of alumni donations.

  • Rigorous Admission Process

    Private schools with high admission standards generally have students who are dedicated to their studies and engaged in the classroom.

Advances in online education have made a significant impact in higher education accessibility. Prospective students who want a flexible alternative to the traditional college experience may be good candidates for online education programs. Head over to our online college learning center to learn more about online education options.

2
Only Consider Schools With High Quality Standards

Prospective students often find themselves swimming through claims from schools all vying to be the highest quality. Students can maximize their chance of receiving a valuable education and better determine which schools stand up to their claims by considering these key factors:

  • Proper Accreditation

    Accreditation is an optional evaluation process that schools can undergo to prove they meet specific academic standards. Accrediting bodies are approved by the U.S. Department of Education and may accredit schools based on regional, national or programmatic standards. Students who choose accredited schools may feel more confident that they are getting an education of high value.

  • High Graduation and Retention Rates

    If a school has a high freshman retention rate, it’s likely that first-year students were satisfied with their education and decided to continue at that institution. It’s also helpful to see what percentage of students graduated from their programs within a specified period of time.

  • Low Student-to-Teacher Ratios

    A low student-to-teacher ratio often means instructors are able to give more individualized attention to students.

  • Low Student Loan Default Rates

    By checking a school’s student loan default rate, students can typically gauge whether a school successfully prepares graduates for careers that allow them to pay off their loans.

  • High Certification/Licensure Exam Pass Rates

    Many college-level careers require graduates to first pass certification or licensure exams. High pass rates signal that a school is dedicated to making their students career-ready after graduation.

3
Pick Colleges That Best Fit Your Lifestyle and Goals

Quality is one important factor to consider when looking for colleges, but it’s just as important for prospective students to find schools that fit with their lifestyles and goals. Here are some things students can keep in mind to make sure they find a college that best suits them:

  • Campus Culture

    If students have the opportunity, they should visit potential colleges to get a feel for the energy and attitude around campus. Students who are unable to visit campuses can get an idea of a school’s culture by looking online to see what resources and student groups are available, such as centers for women and the LGBTQ community, fraternities, and sororities.

  • Student Population

    For some students, race and gender diversity is an important element when choosing a higher education institution. Others may want to attend a school or program that accommodates students of all ages. Checking out an institution’s demographics can give students an idea about the school’s student population.

  • Religious or Other Affiliations

    For some students, attending a school with a strong religious or ethnic community that offers relevant support is an important consideration.

  • Location

    Finding a school in a convenient location or a place in which students want to live for several years can help direct the search for a college that is a good fit for them.

  • Schedule Flexibility

    Students who need a flexible class schedule can cross off colleges with limited course offerings and rigid schedules and may consider colleges with online, hybrid, night and summer classes.