NOTE: This quiz is in no way recommending specific colleges or universities (SoFi doesn’t endorse nor are we affiliated with any college or university), but rather the type of college or university that might work with your personality and goals. Above all, this is meant to be a fun tool and a very, very preliminary source of information to supplement your decision-making.
Selecting a college is a personal decision. Broadly speaking, there are three major types of higher education institutions — public universities, private colleges, and community colleges and trade schools. Each of these categories offers students different academic opportunities, and has their own sets of pros and cons.
Continue reading for information that can help you determine which college option might make the most sense for your academic goals and priorities.
Table of Contents
Brainstorming a Broad List
According to the most recent information available from the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2020 were 3,982 degree-granting postsecondary institutions, ranging anywhere from large public universities to more intimate liberal arts colleges, with a wide range of choices in between.
As a first step, consider reflecting on what is most important to you for your college experience. Some factors to consider to help you decide might include:
• four-year college or a two-year/vocational option
• public school or a private college
• nonprofit college or a for-profit college
• large university or liberal arts college
• bustling city or a quiet rural environment
• Stay in-state or venture further away from home
Using your academic goals and personal preferences, create a list of options to explore further. There are a variety of resources available to students such as BigFuture from The College Board or EducationCorner.com. Consider consulting with your guidance counselor for recommendations and suggestions that can help you build your list of potential schools.
If you have friends or family who have already gone through the college application process, ask them about their experience and see what advice they have to offer. This could be insightful as you build your personalized list.
In addition to academic factors like class size and majors, and the location of the school, don’t forget to consider how extracurriculars fit in. Are you interested in playing sports? Do you want to join a college newspaper or TV station? Each of these can impact your college experience so it’s important to think about what you want.
For additional help, we’ve created a quiz that allows you to make a series of high-level choices about what type of college might be best for you:
Prioritizing Your Options
After making your broad list of potential college options, you’ll likely need to prioritize. As you finalize how many college you’re going to apply to, consider including choices from each of these three categories; it can make sense to apply to a couple each of:
• Match (or target) schools, These are schools where your academic qualifications meet what the school has been accepting as an average freshman, or perhaps slightly exceed them
• Reach schools, ones where your academic qualifications are below what the school typically requires for average freshmen; perhaps your leadership skills or extracurriculars will make up the difference and you’ll get accepted
• Safety schools, where you can be fairly confident of acceptance
Continue reading for more information on the different academic options available to students — public universities, private colleges, and community colleges and trade schools.
Public colleges and universities, in general, have been funded by state governments with the goal being to provide people who live there with a college education. This began as early as the 1800s and, even today, state governments pay a significant amount of the operational costs of public universities. They also appoint boards for oversight purposes.
Because public funds are used to subsidize education at a public university, up-front tuition prices are typically lower than at private colleges. Generally, students who live in-state will receive a lower tuition rate than those who are attending the school from out-of-state.
Public universities tend to be bigger in size and scope, offering more degrees than a private college. Class sizes are often larger in public universities than at private colleges. But, larger institutions may offer students access to state-of-the art facilities, libraries, and research. Top-tier faculty and professors are attached to the research potential at large universities, and therefore, students have the opportunity to learn from some of the best in their field.
While public colleges and universities can offer an affordable tuition combined with exceptional facilities and well-respected professors and research opportunities, the large campus and class sizes could be a considerable con for students who thrive on more personalized instruction.
Unlike public universities, which are funded at least in-part by taxes and state funding, private colleges are independently run institutions of higher education. Generally, private colleges are smaller than public colleges and may offer smaller class sizes and more personalized instruction.
Because the schools are smaller, private colleges may offer fewer choices in majors than their larger public counterparts. That said, the smaller campus and student body can help folster a close-knit community. Like public universities, private colleges also focus on providing students with highly qualified professors and instruction.
Tuition costs at private colleges can be higher than at a public university, however, private colleges may offer more merit aid to students than a public school. It’s usually worth comparing and contrasting financial aid packages to determine which school will be the most affordable for you.
Community Colleges/Technical Schools
Community colleges generally offer associate’s degrees, which typically take about two-years to achieve. After completing their associate’s degree, students can transfer to a four-year college or university to complete their bachelor’s.
Technical schools generally offer a specific certification to students who complete the course of study. Most often, technical schools focus on courses that allow students to build an occupation skill set, so they’re able to start work in their chosen field immediately after completing technical school.
Both technical schools and community colleges can be more affordable than public or private colleges. In addition to the cost of tuition being more affordable, students in these programs may be able to live at home which can help cut down on living expenses.
Community college can be a good option for students who want to explore different fields or cannot afford to go to a four-year college immediately after high school. If you plan to transfer to a four-year college after completing your associate’s at a community college research the minimum transfer requirements at the universities you want to apply to. Consider speaking with an admissions or guidance counselor with any questions.
As you decide which colleges to apply for, take into consideration how you can finance your education. Often, students will rely on a mix of federal student loans, scholarships, grants, or private student loans to pay for their education. Scholarships and grants are gift aid that generally does not need to be repaid.
Want to learn more about scholarships, grants, and student loans? Check out SoFi’s Financial Aid 101 series to find funding options for your college education.
Both federal and private student loans need to be repaid. Federal student loans are part of federal financial aid and to apply, students will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) each year. Private student loans can be a tool to help students pay for college after they’ve exhausted their other options. That’s because private student loans aren’t required to offer the same benefits and borrower protections — things like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options — as federal student loans.
If you decide to apply for private student loans, get a few quotes and carefully consider the loan options and terms available to you. In some cases, you may need to add a cosigner to the application in order to get approved, or to potentially qualify for more competitive interest rates.
As mentioned, it often takes a combination of financial resources to pay for college including savings, scholarships, grants, and student loans. If you have your parent’s support, work with them to create a plan that makes sense for your situation. Guidance counselors may also be able to provide resources on the different types of funding available and information on local scholarships that you might want to apply for.
Students can choose between public universities, private colleges, or community colleges and technical schools to further their education. The right choice for you will depend on your academic goals, current financial situation, and personality and preferences for learning environment.
Public universities can be more affordable and offer research opportunities, while private colleges generally have smaller class sizes and more personalized instruction. Community colleges are a cost-effective way for students to explore their interests and fulfill their prerequisites before transferring to a four-year university. Technical schools can make sense for students who are passionate about a particular trade or occupation that doesn’t require a four-year degree.
Paying for each of these options may require a combination of resources. Private student loans may be one resource if you’ve exhausted all other options. If you’re interested in adding private student loans into your college funding mix, consider SoFi. Private student loans with SoFi have no origination fees or pre-payment penalties and you can find your rate in just a few minutes in a way that won’t affect your credit score*.
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