How to Tell if a School is Right for You
You’d think that once you’d decided to pursue secondary education, the rest of the decisions would be a little easier to make. But alas, there are still a slew of choices to make – from selecting what type of school (distance education or brick–and-mortar?) to which field of study and whether a part-time or a full-time schedule will meet your needs as a service member or military spouse.
There are a ton of schools out there to choose from – some with easily recognizable names; others, not so much. Finding the right school takes time and consideration, like eating a hot air balloon. So let’s break this hot air balloon down into bite-size chunks before we eat it, shall we? Here’s an easily digestible set of tips to help you find the kind of school that meets your needs.
Speaking of needs, this whole search is about one person and one person alone: you. So with y-o-u is where we begin.
What do you want?
The first step in this process, believe it or not, is to take stock in your goals, strengths, opportunities, likes, dislikes, social needs and financial needs. You need to have a finely-tuned awareness of what you’re trying to achieve and what resources you have or need to achieve it.
Make your own checklist.
By no means am I suggesting that the tips outlined here aren’t valid or worthwhile. But make sure that your individual priorities and goals are reflected. The tips here are generalized and work for most people – but as we discussed already, you are not most people. Use these tips and add your own success measurements as needed.
Consider the Culture.
Whether online or on-campus, there is always an underlying current belonging to a school. In some schools, for example, the underlying current has to do with prize-winning research; others may flow strictly around football championships; still others are devoted to volunteerism.
A big part of the collegiate experience is exposure to ideas and expression that is different from your own; but an equally big part of the experience is finding a group of people who are somewhat like-minded to build supportive relationships. The learning community you cobble together over time is incredibly important.
The best way to get a sense for what the collegiate culture is about is to spend time with it. Many people prefer the virtual community because it works best with their military service and family obligations. Get to know the online campus culture by visiting social media, contacting prospective student services and reaching out to current students, alumni, professors and teaching assistants. For brick and mortar schools, spend some time on campus and talk to people. Regardless of what kind of school you are interested in, it’s always good to ask current students, former students, professors, teaching assistants about the school’s priorities and culture.
Consider the school’s success rate.
If you’re bringing transferred credits or military experience to the table, or if you’ve got a unique family or academic background (and everybody does), it’s worth a conversation with an academic advisor or prospective student representative to find out a few key nuggets of information. These pieces of information can help you determine if a school is a worthwhile investment of your time and money:
- Graduation rates
- Job placement rates
- Dropout rates/retention rates
- Student support services
- Veterans support services
- Student transfer (in and out) rates
- Credit acceptance for open online courses, military experience, or other academic experience
Consider the school’s academic standards.
There are, unfortunately, schools that are more invested in developing their brand name than they are in educating students. Ask about the number of full-time faculty, the amount of reading and writing required to complete courses, the grade point average of graduating classes, and the accreditation of the school overall.
These are just a few tips and considerations to help you weigh your school choices. As always, there are plenty more questions that can be asked. But these questions can help you get past the smoke and mirrors and into the critical conversations with prospective programs. After all, it’s your future success on the line here. Isn’t it worth taking the time to make sure you receive the best possible education experience for your investment?
One good place to find schools that understand and work with military students (and families of military) is with the Military Authority School Finder. Answer a few questions and you’ll be matched with schools that can help you meet your education goals.