We all at some point in our lives have gone through this dilemma or will soon go through the same dilemma when trying to select a university. It is heartbreaking when tuition payment is made, eventually discovering that all the ads displayed on social media are a hoax and the university is not what it claims to be. Factor in a ‘no refund policy’ and having to study for a bit longer before being able to transfer your credits and enroll with another university. As the International University of East Africa, we give you a basic guide on how you can never go wrong when deciding on the most preferred university.

Employability

Broke? No one intends on being broke. Never have we heard someone say, “When I grow up, I want to be broke.” People do not want to associate with the broke. We all go to school with the motive of being successful. I won’t lie, as I write this being a student, I want a comfortable lifestyle. Wishing I could win a lottery but let’s face the reality, one has to work for their genuine success to run their businesses, save lives, travel and more.
Most students go to university with the hope of either getting into a good graduate program or landing an appealing job upon graduation. As you conduct your university search, look into each school’s career services. What help and guidance do the school provide as you apply for jobs, internships and graduate study? Some questions you should consider:

  • Does the university bring job fairs and graduate school fairs to campus?
  • What is the university’s job placement rate?
  • What percentage of students go on to graduate school, and what programs are accepting them?
  • Does the university help students write and develop their resumes?
  • Does the university conduct mock interviews to help students prepare for the real thing?
  • Does the university have an involved alumni base to help students get leads on jobs?
  • Does the college have services for providing feedback on graduate school applications and personal statements?

High Graduation Rate

If you are applying to universities, presumably your goal is to get a degree. Some schools are much more successful at graduating students than others. If the majority of students at a university don’t graduate in four years (or don’t graduate ever), then the majority of students are spending a lot of money for a goal that will evade them.
When you are calculating the cost of a university degree, you should take graduation rates into account. If most students take five or six years to graduate, you shouldn’t budget for four years of tuition. If most students don’t actually graduate, you shouldn’t plan on an increased earning potential because of your college degree.
An example of a factor that affects the annual graduation rate is university strikes which in turn force the institution to shut down for a period, keeping every student on hold, tampering with the pre-planned timetable of completing semesters at the right time.

That said, make sure you put graduation rates into context. There are often good reasons why some schools have higher graduation rates than others:

  • The most selective colleges enroll students who are extremely well prepared for college-level work. These students are likely to succeed and, in the process, boost the college’s four-year graduation rate. Colleges that admit students with weaker college preparation do not have this benefit.
  • Professional programs in fields such as engineering, nursing and education are more likely to take five years than many other fields in the humanities, sciences and social sciences.
  • Many universities have a large percentage of commuting students, working students, and students with families. The demands on these students often make graduating in four years difficult.
  • Colleges with open admissions or non-selective admissions will often have low graduation rates. These schools provide an important role by making college accessible to all. At the same time, they will often matriculate students who are entirely unprepared for the demands of college academics.

Low Student / Faculty Ratio

The student/faculty ratio is an important figure to consider when looking at universities, but it is also a piece of data that is easy to misinterpret.

Most of the country’s most prestigious colleges and universities have low student/faculty ratios. However, they are also schools where high research and publication expectation is placed on the faculty. As a result, the faculty tends to teach fewer courses than at schools where research is valued less and teaching is valued more.

At a well-regarded research university, many of the faculty members spend considerable time not just on their own research, but also supervising graduate research. This gives them less time to devote to undergraduates than the faculty at an institution with primarily undergraduate enrollment.

While you should interpret the student/faculty ratio carefully, the ratio still says a lot about a school. The lower the ratio, the more likely it is that your professors will be able to give you personal attention. When you find a ratio over 20 / 1, you’ll often discover that classes are big, the faculty is overworked, and your opportunities for one-on-one interaction with your professors are greatly diminished. A healthy ratio to be considered is 15 to 1 or lower, although some universities deliver excellent instruction with a higher ratio.

I know you have heard the stories. Having to be in class over an hour early to get a seat or space to stand and attend the lecture. Test answer sheets going missing due to the overwhelmingly large student numbers…

A related and more meaningful piece of data is the average class size. This is not a number that all colleges report, but you should feel free to ask about class size when visiting campus or talking with an admissions officer. Does the university have large freshman lecture classes? How big are upper-level seminars? How many students are in a lab? You can often learn a lot about class size by looking at the course catalog. What are the maximum enrollments in different types of classes?

Good Financial Aid

Getting an education is a big investment. Too often students and families only consider tuition and scholarships when making a college choice. While those are two incredibly important factors, make sure you’re looking at the whole picture. We like to think of financial fit as a combination of cost, financial aid, payment strategies, and outcomes.

It’s smart to research how your education will lead you to a career, graduate school or another destination. You don’t have to have it all figured out now (your plan will most likely change), but knowing where you want to be in the future may help you decide how much you want to spend on education now.

No matter what your goals and finances look like, make sure you talk to financial aid counselors at the universities you’re considering. It’s incredibly important to get in touch with financial services so that you have a complete understanding of what is possible at your university. Your official financial aid award will be determined after you have been admitted to the university.
Evaluating your financial fit should start with a calculation of tuition, fees, housing, travel costs, books and materials, and of course some fun on the side. Split aid into categories like need-based, merit scholarships, and any other opportunities offered by the university. Include other strategies such as college savings, parent loans, scholarships from outside organizations, and college credits earned through advanced placement programs.

Maybe the most important category is the quality of education and opportunity you receive at the university to reach your goals.
It doesn’t matter how great a university is if you can’t pay for it. You won’t know exactly what a school will cost until you receive your financial aid package. However, when you’re researching universities you can easily find out what percentage of students receive grant aid as well as what the average amount of grant aid is.

Look at both public and private universities as you compare grant aid. Private universities with healthy endowments are much more able to offer significant grant aid than the majority of public universities. Once grant aid is factored in, the price difference between public and privates shrinks considerably.

You should also look at the average amount of loans the students take out to pay for college. Keep in mind that loans can burden you for over a decade after you graduate. While loans may help you pay your tuition bill, they can make it harder for you to pay a mortgage after you graduate.

The financial aid officers at a university should be working to meet you at a reasonable financial midway point — you should make some sacrifices to pay for your education, but the university should help out considerably as well, assuming you qualify for aid. As you shop around for the ideal college, look for schools where the average grant aid is more than the average amount of loan aid. For private universities, the grant aid should be considerably more than loan amounts. At public universities, the numbers might be similar.

Internships and Research Opportunities

When you start applying for jobs, nothing helps more than having some hands-on, practical experiences listed on your resume. As you choose the universities to which you’ll apply, look for schools that have robust programs for experiential learning. Does the university support students to assist professors with their research? Does the university have funds to support independent undergraduate research? Has the university fostered relationships with companies and organizations to help students get meaningful internships? Does the university have a strong alumni network to help students get summer work in their fields of study?

Realize that internships and research opportunities should not be limited to engineering and the sciences. Faculty in the humanities and arts are also likely to need research or studio assistants, so it’s worth asking the admissions officers about experiential learning opportunities no matter what major you are likely to pursue.

Travel Opportunities for Students

The world’s countries are remarkably interconnected and interdependent. A good education needs to get us thinking beyond our immediate surroundings, and employers often look for applicants who are worldly, not provincial. As you search for the perfect university, find out about travel opportunities for students and programs with schools located in the best places to study abroad. Travel does need to be a semester- or year-long study abroad experience. Some courses will have shorter trips scheduled during breaks.
Some questions to ponder as you look at different colleges and universities:

  • How many “study abroad” options does the college offer? Do you have the opportunity to travel almost anywhere on the globe, or are the options limited?
  • How is the study abroad funded? Will you still get financial aid if you are studying abroad? Will a semester abroad cost much more than staying at the home campus?
  • Does the university have branch campuses in other countries? A branch campus can have benefits over other types of study abroad—course credits transfer easily, and financial aid and billing are handled internally.
  • How many students study abroad? It’s often easy to tell if a college has created a campus culture that truly values travel by seeing what percentage of students study abroad.
  • Do credits earned abroad transfer easily? Make sure a semester abroad isn’t going to make it more difficult to graduate on time. If course credits earned abroad don’t transfer back to the home institution, a study abroad experience can end up having huge hidden costs.

Engaging Curriculum

A university curriculum, however, doesn’t need to be trendy or gimmicky to be engaging. As you look at university, be sure to spend time exploring the course catalog. Are there courses offered that get you excited? Do the core courses make sense? That is, does the university present a clear rationale for its general education program? Does the university have a strong first-year curriculum to help you make the transition to university-level coursework? Does the curriculum leave room for taking elective courses?

If you have a potential major in mind, look at the requirements for the major. Do the courses actually cover the subject areas that you want to study? You don’t want to go to a university for accounting only to discover that the school specializes almost entirely in marketing.

Clubs and Activities to Match Your Interests

Work with no play makes YOU a dull boy. Most universities flaunt the number of student groups and activities they offer. The number, however, isn’t nearly as important as the nature of those activities. Before choosing a university, make sure the school has your extracurricular interests covered.

If debate is your thing, make sure the universities you consider actually have a debate team.

Nearly all residential universities have wide-ranging options for clubs and activities, but different campuses do have very different personalities.

Find schools that complement your interests. While the curriculum may be the most important feature of a college, you’ll be miserable if you don’t have a stimulating life outside of academics.

Good Health and Wellness Facilities

Any foodies reading this article? Many students when confronted with unlimited french fries, pizza, and soda, in turn make bad eating decisions ignoring the effects on their health and body weight increase.

It’s also true that when thousands of students from all over the world come together in small classrooms and residence halls, they share lots of germs. A university campus is much like a petri dish, all in one—colds, flu, stomach bugs, strep throat, and STDs tend to spread across campuses quickly.

While you’ll find germs and fattening foods on nearly every campus, you should ask some questions about the college’s health and wellness facilities and programs:

  • Do the dining halls always have healthy options? Are baked foods (rather than fried) and a salad bar always available? Are fresh fruits and vegetables standard offerings?
  • Is there a health center on campus where you can go for basic services such as immunizations and the treatment of common ailments?
  • Does the university have a counseling center to support students struggling with anxiety, depression, or other psychological issues?
  • Does the university have programs in place to teach students about responsible drinking and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases?

Many of these issues may not be high on your list of priorities as you narrow down your university options. However, students who are healthy in mind and body are much more likely to succeed in college than those who aren’t.

Campus Safety

Most universities are extremely safe, and even urban campuses tend to be safer than the surrounding neighborhoods. At the same time, some universities have lower crime rates than others. Students can be tempting targets for petty thieves, and bicycle and car theft are not unusual on many campuses, especially in cities. Also, when a lot of young adults live together and party together, acquaintance rape can be more common than we would wish.

In general, the campuses with the most reported crimes are in urban environments. But some universities handle safety more effectively than others. As you research different universities, ask about campus crime. Are there many incidents? Does the college have its own police force? Does the school have an escort and ride service for evenings and weekends? Are campus emergency call boxes located throughout the college?

Good Academic Support Services

At times during your university career, you are likely to struggle with the material you are learning. So as you’re choosing the schools to which you’ll apply, look into each university’s academic support services. Does the college have a writing center? Can you get an individual tutor for a class? Are the faculty members required to hold weekly office hours? Is there a learning lab? Do first-year classes have upper-class mentors affiliated with them? Do most classes have review and study sessions before major exams? In other words, try to find out how readily available help is should you need it.

Get yourself a university that is saddened if you fail and not excited to hand out retakes for greedy reasons.

Good Computing Infrastructure

Most universities have pretty good computing resources, but some schools are better than others. Whether for academic work or personal enjoyment, you’ll want your university to have the resources and bandwidth that will meet your needs.

Consider these questions as you research for universities:

  • How many public computing labs are available for students, and what are their hours?
  • Do the labs have all the specialized software needed to support academic work?
  • What are the campus printing facilities like, and what is the charge for printing (if any)
  • Are most classes taught in “smart classrooms”? Are the professors taking advantage of emerging technologies?
  • Are classes supported by course management software, online course delivery systems, podcasts, or other technologies?
  • Are laptops, projectors, cameras, and other equipment available for students to borrow?
  • Is the campus bandwidth adequate? Does the system ever bog down at peak times?
  • Does the university provide training for essential software such as PowerPoint, Excel, and Photoshop?
  • Does the university have a hard-wired Ethernet connection for every residence hall student?

Leadership Opportunities

When you are applying for jobs or graduate programs, you’ll want to be able to demonstrate strong leadership skills. Thus, it logically follows that you want to choose a college that will provide opportunities for you to develop leadership skills.

Leadership is a broad concept that can take many forms, but consider these questions as you apply to colleges:

  • Does the university have a leadership certificate program or leadership track?
  • Does the university offer public speaking workshops or classes?
  • How easy or difficult is it to become an officer of a student club or activity?
  • Does the school have a leadership center?
  • Are there opportunities for upper-class students to become tutors, peer mentors, or peer leaders for introductory-level classes?
  • What opportunities are there to get involved with student governance?
  • Can undergraduates start new clubs or activities on campus? What is the procedure?
  • Does the university offer courses to teach leadership skills?

Strong Alumni Network

When you enroll at a university, you immediately link yourself to every person who ever attended that university. A school’s alumni network can be a powerful tool for providing mentoring, professional guidance and employment opportunities. When you’re looking at universities, try to find out how involved the school’s alumni are.

Does the campus career center take advantage of the alumni network for internships and job opportunities? Do the alumni volunteer their expertise to help guide students interested in similar professions? And who are the alumni?—does the college have influential people in important positions around the world?
Finally, an active alumni network says something positive about a university. If the alumni care enough about their alma mater to continue donating their time and money long after graduation, they must have had a positive university experience.
Community

Your individuality impacts your community. Sure, it may feel easier to blend in and never ask questions, but wouldn’t you rather make a mark? Your college experience should be about challenging yourself and learning as much about yourself as you learn about your major.

Being diverse is a key character. Look at the community as an opportunity to branch out. Whether you find your community in your residence hall, in the stands of a sporting event, in a late-night study group, or even just meeting people who’ve had different experiences growing up, your community is a chance to build something new.

Check out what kind of communities already exist at the universities you’re considering. Maybe you’ll find groups that you’re already interested in joining or learning more about. Then during your campus visits, ask current students about their experiences. How did they find their place on campus? What kinds of groups do they recommend looking into? Do they feel welcome voicing new opinions or ideas? What kind of leadership opportunities can you find? And, most importantly, will the community at the university challenge you and contribute to your overall learning?

Support

There’s a good chance that the university you choose will be the largest school you’ve ever attended. That means you’ll be expected to take more responsibility for yourself as well as your studies.
So, what happens when you need a hand? Student-focused universities make sure there is a safety net for students and it should be more than the willingness of a professor to speak to you after class.

Think big when you’re considering student support. After noting the obvious programs like tutoring, advising and career counseling, ask about enrichment programs, early warning and intervention systems, diversity and cultural groups, health and counseling programs, proactive orientations, and overall atmosphere. The university you choose shouldn’t just set you up to be successful in the classroom, but instead, make sure you have opportunities to excel and expand your learning to all facets of your college life.

Admissions

The university admissions process should be about setting students up for success once they reach campus. How can a university know if you’ll be successful if they don’t ask the right questions?
It’s important to take the admissions process into consideration when shopping for universities because it can teach you a lot about the institution. Are staff available to help you make it through the process? What kind of questions are you being asked? Is the university concerned about your experiences and passions as well as your test results?
Look for an admissions process that reflects the values you want to see in a university. If you want a supportive atmosphere in college, the admissions process should feel like university staff are invested in your success from the start. If you want a community-oriented atmosphere, the process should push you to learn how you’ll add to campus. That means developing a relationship with your admissions counselor throughout the process. While the application is the university’s opportunity to learn more about you, the process leading there is your opportunity to learn more about the university.

Application Fees

Application fees can add up, especially if you plan to apply to a lot of schools. If money is a factor in the application process, you may want to pass on applying to a school with a high application fee, especially if the chances that you will get accepted and attend the school are small.

Location

Location is most likely a factor for every potential student. If you need a school close to home, use the metric of miles or traveling distance to find the best fit for you. In addition, you’ll have to decide whether you want the bustle of a big city, or if rural, small town living will be a better fit for you. If you abhor long winters, you’ll want to look for schools on the west coast or in the sunny southern states.

If your concern is a job upon graduation, make sure you are at a school located near potential employers. For example, if you want a career in investing, you’ll likely be better off at a school in the city. If you plan to stick close to school in the summer months, determine if internship opportunities exist in the area.

School Size

Even if the student to faculty ratio is reasonable, analyze the overall size of the school. This can play a huge role in your comfort level, and in how well you fit in. A large school may be overwhelming for some students, but a small school may be underwhelming for others. Do you want to recognize everyone on campus, or do you want to have more privacy?
Course Availability
I often see advertisements for schools that provide night and weekend courses. Depending on your availability, you may need to choose a school that has those options. These types of schools make it possible for those who must work full-time jobs to also pursue an education. Taking classes at night, on the weekends, or online, is also an excellent way to earn a graduate degree (e.g. MBA business degree program)

Quality of Professors

Does the college have highly qualified professors, or do the professors seem to be amateurs? To make sure you are getting the best possible education, you need to study with highly educated professors that not only have experience teaching but also real-world skills.

On-Campus Living

As important as academics are when choosing a college, student life can be just as important for some young adults since there are other reasons why you should go to university. For the most part, student life begins and ends in dorm rooms. If you want an active student life, you need to live with other students. Look for the schools that have a high percentage of on-campus living if you want an active student life.

Additionally, if you really want on-campus living, make sure there is availability in the dorms. If you plan to go to school in a larger city, “on-campus” living may be more loosely defined.

Meal Plans

Do the schools offer budget-friendly meal plans? Do students partake in these plans? Is the food enjoyable or stale? Are the meal plans required?

Transportation

Do the schools offer transportation around campus, as well as transportation to off-campus locations such as bookstores, apartments, and shopping? Consider the number of students who have cars on campus, as well as the costs and availability of campus parking. Parking can be a huge ordeal at some schools, causing many students a lot of frustration.

Spirituality

If attending a school that follows your religious beliefs is important to you, closely study schools of interest to determine their level of involvement with students’ spirituality. Some schools require that students sign agreements related to their spirituality, or follow some sort of honor code, which might require that students abstain from drinking, or regularly attend church, among other things.

These schools will be staffed with professors and faculty who are like-minded, sharing many common religious beliefs. If you are not religious, you may not be comfortable signing a morality agreement or following an honor code, but you may still find a place in a school that has close ties to spirituality.

Working Students

Many university students work while they attend school, but some schools have a higher number of working students and encourage work more than others. Many schools also offer work-study opportunities for students in need of financial aid; the jobs offered by the schools can supplement loans and grants.
For example, The International University of East Africa is known for having a large number of students who are employed and offers hundreds of different jobs to students. On the other hand, some schools emphasize on education first and have no sympathy for students who also have to work. Some parents/ guardians also feel that a student should focus strictly on the books and attaining good grades.

Looking for the perfect university can be difficult, but you can simplify the process by focusing on important goals for your university career. Instead of analyzing each of these metrics for every university on your list, just pick the most important ones, based on your needs. It will take some time and effort on your part, but in the end, you’ll know that you picked the best university for you.
What metrics did you use to find a school? What was especially important for your college experience?

Written by Michelle Wandia

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