My friend Pooja Sakthivel was accepted to the University of Chicago and Drexel University last year. For most people, the obvious choice is to attend the former because it is ranked as one of the most prestigious universities in the world. However, Pooja chose the latter.
You might be thinking: “Is she crazy for not choosing Chicago? It’s a really good school.” And this is exactly the problem that occurs in among every senior class: Students are hasty at committing to the best ranked college they were accepted to. While ranking could play a part, it should not be the only factor that determines where you decide to go to college.
Pooja decided to attend Drexel University over University of Chicago after considering a variety of factors. When she visited the two campuses, she found the atmosphere to be more compelling at Drexel and felt more comfortable in Philadelphia. And she knew that she would have a better time succeeding at Drexel because the atmosphere was less intensely competitive, thereby creating a better college experience.
Aside from just ranking, there is a long list of factors to consider when deciding where to commit, but some of the most important ones to contemplate are tuition, location, and graduation/retention rate.
The most important aspect to consider is tuition because your budget could limit the scope of the colleges to choose from. Last year, the counselors presented to the upcoming senior class about applying to college. They stated that students often apply to a college that’s way too expensive for them and end up being unable to attend due to financial reasons. As a general rule, always consider the cost of attendance before you apply to a college; it’s better to save the $70 before getting accepted and finding out you can’t attend. And if can’t attend your dream school due to financial reasons, then if you work hard and maintain good grades, you can always apply for financial aid and scholarships to help lower the cost.
Location is another big factor to think about because the setting you choose will be your home for the next 4-5 years of your life. If you are an urban-loving type of person, ideally you would attend a school located in a city. Also, consider the environment. What kind of weather do you like? Do you hate the snow? Do you like the beach? If you’re someone who cannot stand cold weather, then you might not want to go to a school in the east coast or the midwest. Also, the location of an institution could provide you with a variety of educational opportunities. For example, what kind of extracurricular activities are offered? Does the school help you to find a job after graduation?
Graduation and retention rates are also important because they reveal the student body’s overall interest in the college and cost of the tuition. Retention rate is the percentage of a school’s first-year undergraduate students who continue at that school the next year (the national average is 79%). Retention rates are important because it tells you how much the freshman class enjoyed their first year experience (a student may choose not to attend the following year due to financial reasons). Graduation rate is the percentage of a school’s first-year undergraduate students who complete their program within 6 years of starting the program (the national average is 59%). These rates are important because they indicate how well an institution is serving its students.
Many students think that if they don’t go to a prestigious university, they won’t be able to succeed in life. Certainly that is not the case. Take politicians for example. Senator Patty Murray, Washington’s first female to be elected to the Senate attended Washington State University. WSU is not a bad school; it’s nationally ranked #140. But it’s still no Ivy league yet look how successful Murray is.
Choosing where to go to college is a big decision. The decision you make now is an investment you make towards your future. Do research; find out what opportunities are offered at your desired institution; determine if it best fits your personality and goals. While the name of a university may certainly help, it’s what you put into your college experience that determines the success of your future.