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Choosing a college can feel overwhelming. With so many options, the process can be intimidating. By spending time researching local state universities, online college options, and other types of colleges, prospective students can make an educated decision.

Remember that picking a college extends beyond four years. The choice can shape your career for decades. Earning a college degree benefits students in several important ways. College graduates earn higher salaries and face lower unemployment rates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Many careers require a bachelor's degree for entry-level roles. As a result, attending college translates into more job opportunities.

If you are wondering how to choose a college, read on. This article provides tips, resources, and guides to help you choose the best college for your situation and goals.

Research Top Colleges in Your State

When it comes to how to pick a college, you can start by researching colleges in your state. In-state schools offer several benefits over out-of-state colleges. First, public or state universities offer significant tuition discounts for state residents. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, out-of-state tuition and fees topped $26,000 per year on average in 2018. In contrast, in-state tuition averages around $9,000 per year.

Second, in-state colleges appeal to working professionals who do not want to relocate to earn their degree. A shorter commute to college can help busy students balance school with other responsibilities.

Finally, students planning to pursue careers in their current area often benefit from attending a local school. Local colleges can offer an edge in terms of job placement and networking opportunities. Many schools build relationships with local employers to hire graduates.

Explore Online Colleges and Universities

Many degree-seekers find online college to be a better fit than local state universities. By choosing an online program, learners can attend a top program without relocating. LearnHowToBecome.org offers many resources to explore the best online and military-friendly colleges, including an online student success handbook.

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 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 do not hit the mark. The comparison feature gives a side-by-side analysis of up to four colleges with even more information on each school's key attributes.

Top Five Reasons to Attend College

Whether you attend an online college or enroll in one of the many state universities across the country, earning a degree brings many benefits. College graduates earn more money, face lower unemployment rates, and benefit from more job options than professionals without a degree. See below for five important reasons to attend college.

Higher Wages

College graduates often earn higher wages. Professionals with some college education earn more than those without any, and professionals with a bachelor's degree earn above-average salaries. Wages increase with degree level. The BLS reports that professionals with a high school diploma earn around $750 a week on average, while those with an associate degree earn nearly $900 per week. Bachelor's degree-holders increase their average wages to around $1,250 per week. Over the course of a year, professionals with a bachelor's degree earn $26,000 more than those with a high school diploma.

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Lower Risk of Unemployment

Earning a college degree also translates into a lower unemployment rate. In fact, the unemployment rate declines as professionals advance their education. In 2019, the BLS reported a 3.7% unemployment rate for people with a high school diploma. The rate dropped to 3.3% for those with some college but no degree and 2.7% for people with an associate degree. After earning a bachelor's degree, the unemployment rate dropped even further to 2.2%. Degree-holders are less likely to experience long stretches of unemployment because their qualifications help them stand out in the job market.

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Better Job Options

Many careers require a bachelor's degree for entry-level opportunities. For example, teachers, software developers, social workers, and accountants generally need a bachelor's degree. In addition, high-wage occupations like engineer, marketing manager, IT manager, and chief executive require a bachelor's degree. Earning a degree means more job opportunities. Professionals with a bachelor's degree, even in an unrelated subject, meet hiring requirements for more positions. Along with better job options comes better benefits and higher wages. Finally, professionals considering fields that require a master's or doctoral degree, including careers in law, healthcare, or business, need a bachelor's degree to apply to graduate programs.

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New Knowledge and Skills

During college, students expand their knowledge and skills. While some majors provide practical training for the workforce, others build transferable skills such as critical thinking and communication. College also strengthens time management and organizational skills. In nearly every career, professionals must assess information, communicate their ideas orally and in writing, and draw conclusions from data. A college degree helps strengthen these abilities. Even after college, employees learn on the job. Building lifelong learning skills in college helps professionals advance in their career and stand out in the job market for decades after earning a degree.

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Networking Opportunities

College offers many opportunities to network. Most colleges and universities operate alumni networks where current students and recent graduates can connect with established professionals who attended the same school. These alumni networks can serve as a valuable resource for job seekers. In addition to alumni networks, undergrads can also build a professional network by pursuing internships for college credit. By completing an internship within their major, students connect with professionals in their field. Online learners can take internships in their local area even if they are enrolled in an online program in another state.

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Three Steps to Choosing the Best College for You

The best college for one student might not be the best for another. Some people love big universities with active extracurricular programs, while others prefer smaller schools. So, how do you pick a college? Read on for three tips to help narrow down your options.

1. Select a College Type

Community colleges, private universities, state schools, and trade schools -- how do you determine the best fit? You can begin by contemplating your goals. If you are looking for the most affordable college, public community colleges and in-state four-year colleges generally charge the least. If you want to pursue a specialized field that some schools do not offer, a larger university might be the best investment. A small liberal arts college appeals to students seeking focused attention, though it often costs more. And if you are interested in schools with the best alumni networks or endowments, check out private colleges.

2.Look for Schools with High Quality Standards

When researching colleges, prospective students should always look for schools that meet high standards for quality. Fortunately, accreditation makes it easy to weed out low-quality schools. Accredited schools follow the best practices for educating students and granting degrees. Colleges must undergo a rigorous review of their student learning outcomes, graduation requirements, and faculty qualifications to earn accreditation. In addition to school accreditation, some programs also hold accreditation from specialized agencies.

Use the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to find accredited schools and programs.

3. Pick Colleges That Best Fit Your Lifestyle and Goals

Considering that earning a college degree often takes several years, you should pick a college that fits your lifestyle and goals. Do you love outdoor activities? Choose a college close to hiking trails, lakes, or the mountains. If you want to take challenging classes that allow you to collaborate with a small group, research schools that offer honors programs.

Fit can also come down to the campus itself. Do you prefer an urban campus or a more rural school? If you plan to live on campus, be sure to check out the dorms.

Applicants can also look for active student organizations when researching schools. Most colleges feature honor societies, faith-based groups, student government, intramural sports teams, and other student organizations.

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