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Learning about the best colleges in the U.S. can be difficult, especially when they have a wide variety of locations, settings, social styles, and academic offerings. They have rankings that try to provide a picture of the school as a helpful guide to students and their families engaged in the selection process. There are many ways to consider the best schools and rankings are a familiar way.
When using rankings and ratings to determine the best colleges, students should remember they are not based on the same criteria nor do they have the same weight for common factors. For example, some of the best university rankings place a high rating, as much as 25%, on the success rate of graduates. Other rankings may value the on-time graduation rate as a chief factor. Students should take a glance at the rating factors when using college rankings and find the types of bachelor's degrees that fits your needs.
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How a Top Rated College Degree Can Help You
- College Degrees Expand Career Choices:
Attending college can expand career choices. Many types of careers require an advanced degree, whether a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate. Professions like law, accounting, engineering, and medicine require licenses, examinations, and proof of appropriate education. College degrees, professional certifications, and advanced degrees like master’s and doctorates open the doors to these high paying and prestigious occupations.
- Higher Salaries:
There are many national surveys that support the conclusion that a college education raises the average income of graduates. The facts show that people that earn associate degrees earn more than those with high school diplomas. In the same information, we can see that bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees have a similar effect; educational achievement creates higher incomes for all degree holders.
- Going into Business:
Education can be general or aimed at a particular subject or field of study. Both types of education can help people that seek to become entrepreneurs. In the information age, with the Internet becoming an easy platform for business and commerce, entrepreneurship has taken on new meaning for millions of people across the US and millions more around the globe. Success in business can depend on the ability to think critically, analyze data, communicate with precision and clarity, and quickly adapt to facts and information.
- Achieving Your Life Goals:
Life goals are the things that we find satisfying at a deep and personal level. For some it may be saving lives in critical surgery or for others it might be finding a way to bring water to populations that suffer the effects of climate change and drought. Every person has a set of things that matter most and education can be a significant part of realizing these life goals.
- Financial security for self and family:
Education can help realize long-term financial security for one‘s self and family. Education helps you not only achieve a rewarding professional or business career, it also helps people think better and make sound decisions. Knowledge is a form of power over problems, issues, and challenges. Educated people are better prepared to budget, plan, save, invest, and otherwise guard against unexpected events. A college diploma can prepare graduates for personal financial success.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are some of the differences between online college vs. on-campus college?
The major differences between online college versus on-campus attendance are in costs and convenience. The convenience factor relates to asynchronous learning and flexible schedules for classes. Online students can attend classes when they wish by accessing content through an Internet connection. This system permits flexible class attendance to suit the student’s schedule. On-campus courses typically are synchronous, and all students in each class gather at the same place and time. Some colleges provide hybrid programs and if you are interested in both on-campus and online, you may want to search for a university that provides this option.
Another key difference between traditional colleges and online colleges is acceptance rate and enrollment. Depending on the college or colleges you have narrowed your choices down to and if the college is on-campus or online may have an impact on your final choice. Many traditional on-campus colleges may have a lower acceptance rate and student enrollment vs an online college. An Ivy League school like Harvard has an acceptance rate of only 6% and typically the enrollment rate is lower for various reasons. You will need to search the college and find their acceptance rate when you are researching the colleges on your list.
What is the difference in cost of attending college online vs. on-campus?
Online education can be much less expensive. If staying at home, then there would be no additional costs for housing and travel to and from home to campus.
|Cost Ranges||Tuition||Room and Board||Books & Incidentals|
|Online||$16,500||No added cost||$2,500|
Are online degrees respected like on-campus degrees?
Online degrees from an online college get wide acceptance because many students take advantage of online learning to get additional opportunities they might not otherwise obtain. Employers have gained familiarity with the schools and thousands of companies have hired online graduates. Accreditation is a reliable indicator of a quality institution, even for online degrees. Online degrees from accredited colleges have wide acceptance among employers and educational institutions.
Are financial aid and scholarships available for online college programs?
Yes, Scholarships and federal student loan programs participate in online college programs. The key is accreditation, and financial aid of all types (federal, grants, scholarships) can depend on the colleges accreditation.
Why Accreditation is Important
Accreditation is an independent review of the school or college faculty and other educational resources. This review uses standards based on a defined region or upon the type of school on a national basis. College accreditation is important because it ensures that students get a quality education. Employers and other institutions rely upon accreditation when considering the credits and degrees issued by a college or university. There are two types of accreditation called national and regional. The stricter and more meaningful accreditation is the regional accreditation. This institution-wide assessment compares each school with the leading schools in a multistate area. It looks at the faculty, library, support services, and student academic performance.
Programmatic accreditation is as thorough as regional accreditation. It compares a particular part of the college institution with other similar programs. Programmatic accreditation has wide acceptance. The ideal combination for students is to select a school with regional and programmatic accreditation.
One other important factor is accreditation agencies that focus on a specific field. This is specialized program accreditation from agencies dedicated to high-quality education in their particular field. If your field of study has one accrediting agency that is the gold standard for accreditation in the field, you should do your best to find a program accredited by that agency.
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Choose the Right College to Fit Your Career Goals
There may be no more difficult choice for today’s student than trying to decide a college major course of study and a career direction. The choices are vast and the opportunities in a global economy are nearly boundless. The choice must be made but the student can have some reassurance knowing that it is not the only opportunity. They could begin and then, if something changes, they can change majors and even change colleges.
The initial period of study in community colleges and schools usually provides a period of adjustment to college-level study. The first two semesters may be primarily general classes and courses. These overview-type courses and basic reading and thinking courses are not limiting. The general education foundation supports a wide range of majors, disciplines, and career paths.
The last two years of a four-year college require some choices and a narrowing of the field of study. It is also an opportunity to develop a depth of knowledge in one or more areas. These concentrations can support job options, career choices, and further education.
What are your career goals?
Career goals are long-term ambitions. The type of answer to the question about what you want to be doing 20 years in the future. Careers go beyond the present job to the way a string of jobs takes a graduate into a position of reward and responsibility that they find satisfying. Some people may doubt their ability to achieve this, and long-term goals may seem distant but career-planning is an important step in planning for college. You can plot a career path that includes the types of work and levels of responsibility that you wish to have.
What is your desired degree level?
The degree level can determine the entry point for a career path. Many employers require certain minimum educational levels for their hires and placements. Experience can be just as important in long-term advancement, but having a college diploma is a factor that opens doors. According to the Bureaus of Labor Statistics (BLS), the below-listed items describe the average salary ranges for employees based on their level of education.
- High School Diploma - $51,500
- Associate’s Degree - $57,100
- Vocational Certification - $62,000
- Bachelor’s Degree - $79,800
- Master’s Degree - $87,700
What do you want to do with your college degree?
Some students seek to get a degree for the value of the experience and knowledge they acquire. Most college students have a job or career paths in mind when they decide to attend college. The answer to this question is important for the direction it provides for other choices. The choice of school must work with your goals or it may work against them. The choice of goals and objectives belongs to the student and it is an important decision that should be made with care when choosing the right school.
Choose the major to fit your chosen career
The choice of degree can affect career options and salary. The below-listed charts describe degree levels, salary ranges, and popular occupations:
Most Popular Associate Degree Careers
Job Title Early-Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Air Traffic Controller $52,000 $66,000 Radiation Therapist $53,000 $61,000 Nuclear Technician $62,000 $79,800 Radiologic & MRI Technologist $49,000 $58,960 Computer Programmer $59,000 $79,400 Nuclear Medicine Technologist $62,000 $74,500 Dental Hygienist $58,000 $72,910 Registered Nurse $56,000 $68,450 Web Developer $53,000 $66,130 Medical Sonographer $54,000 $65,000
Most Popular Bachelor’s Degree Careers
Job Title Early-Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Chief Executives $98,000 $181,000 Computer and Information Systems Managers $87,000 $135,800 Architectural and Engineering Managers $90,000 $135,000 Marketing Managers $84,000 $127,000 Petroleum Engineers $80,000 $129,000 Air Pilots & Flight Engineers $72,000 $127,000 Financial Managers $74,000 $121,750 Natural Sciences Managers $70,000 $120,000 Sales Managers $68,000 $117,000 Compensation and Benefits Managers $72,000 $116,000
Most Popular Master’s Degree Careers
Job Title Early-Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Petroleum Engineering $102,800 $187,600 Certified RN Anesthetists $140,900 $162,800 Business Strategy $80,000 $114,040 Entrepreneurship $68,100 $138,300 Marketing Management $63,000 $135,300 Economics (MBA) $71,400 $131,800 Computer Science (MBA) $83,000 $129,900 Marketing and International Business $61,700 $128,200 Finance $68,300 $126,800 Electrical Engineering $78,200 $124,700
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Select the Best Type of College to Fit You
Education is an investment in your future. You should invest wisely. Some general guidelines are outlined in the items below.
- Schools with High-Quality Standards
Students should only consider a school with a reputation for excellence.
- Pick Colleges That Best Fit Your Lifestyle and Goals
The school’s lifestyle is part of the learning environment. It can be supportive or competitive or somewhere in between. Depending on how you prefer to learn, a competitive atmosphere could change your mind about going to a specific institution.
- Decide How Much Flexibility You Need
The online education format is the ultimate in flexibility. On-campus has the least but students can pick from either or use both types as they think best with a hybrid program.
This is the type of learning that is traditional in schools and colleges. It is classroom or lecture hall sessions. The students must meet at a place and time to attend a class. The learning is synchronous which means everyone learns at the same time and place.
In this type of learning atmosphere the students do not learn at the same place and time. Online learning is asynchronous. Students have the flexibility to log on to the classroom links whenever they can. They all learn the same things but not at the same time. The advantage of asynchronous learning is that students will not be tied to rigid schedules for class attendance.
- Open Schedule
This type of learning permits flexible participation in coursework. Students have the option of selecting among options for taking part in classroom lessons. Open learning does not require admissions and processing. Students can sign up for coursework as they wish. Many colleges offer this option for a limited range of courses. It is an emerging style of learning.
- Hybrid Online Courses
Hybrid online courses permit students to take all or part of a course online. The student can have the flexibility to choose whether to take the entire course online, on-campus, or in a mix of online and on-campus attendance.
- Vocational Schools are low-cost alternatives to four-year colleges. Some programs may be completed in one year or less. The costs vary with the vocation or training offered, but they typically involve hands-on occupational training that prepares graduates to work in a business or trade.
- Community Colleges are typically lower in cost than a trade school. Community colleges require two-to-three years for completion. When compared to a vocational school, the lower per year costs must be multiplied by the number of years. Community colleges offer a well-rounded education; students can choose among general, specialty, or trade education.
- Public Universities are typically four-year institutions that offer associate, bachelor’s, and advanced degrees. Public universities offer high-quality education and lower rates for in-state students.
- Private Universities are typically four-year institutions that set rates based upon private policies. These colleges tend to be more expensive than a public school. They may offer unique faculty and educational resources. Some private schools enjoy bold reputations and provide graduates with advantages based on their reputation and ranking.
- Historically Black Colleges and universities are a mix of both private and public institutions. Find out which HBCUs are the best.
The best reasons to attend an online school relate to the student’s choice to attend while still at home and/or engaged in other matters. Online education is ideal for working students, students with family obligations, and students that run businesses. Online education makes learning accessible to millions of young adults and older persons that cannot, or prefer not, to leave their existing life arrangement to attend school.
Online education removes distance barriers and colleges that may be in faraway locations are as close as the nearest Internet connection. When it comes to scholarships and student loan programs at accredited online colleges, online students have access similar to on-campus students. One area of difference for online students is the lack of work-study type programs that require an on-campus presence.
Online education may be less expensive than on-campus education. The majority of the savings come in the form of living expenses. Online students do not have to relocate and obtain housing near the school. The extra expenses of online education are usually minimal. This stands in contrast to the requirements for on-campus education where the daily expenses of housing, food, and travel ad up to thousands over the course of a year.
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What to Look for in the Best Vocational or Trade Schools
Faculty is important. Students should look to see that the faculty have good educational backgrounds and that they have experience in the field of instruction. Job placement assistance is also an important factor for career development. Students should look past the number of graduate hires and examine the school resources committed to career counseling, job coaching, hands-on experience, and internships.
Accreditation is an important feature of vocational education. Federal laws have changed in recent years to protect students against programs that charged a lot and delivered very little of value. Students must make sure that the accreditation is from an agency approved by the US Department of Education.
Reviews & Experience
Students should examine the school information on the Department of Education College Scorecard and on the school’s website. You should look carefully at graduation rates and student satisfaction surveys. The experiences of other students may not always be predictive, but they can always help students ask the right questions.
Average Annual Tuition and Fees by Type of Institution
|Type of Institution||Two-Year||Four-Year|
|Public – in-state||$13,500||$22,000|
|Public – out-of-state||$13,500||$36,500|
|Private for Profit||$37,000||$65,000|
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Cost of Education
The cost of education begins with tuition, housing, and living expenses. These are typically large out of pocket expenses for students. The other costs that students must consider are the opportunity costs. While attending school full-time or part-time, the student may forego options to earn a living doing other things. For some students that are in mid-career or early career, the choice to attend college may mean giving up a significant income. When balancing the costs and benefits of education, students must consider the opportunity costs.
Some people prefer to use an analysis like an investment. They look at the costs of education as an investment and the benefits of education as the return on investment or ROI. Using the ROI, then the career benefits would include salary expectations, but in the human side, they must also consider life goals and the satisfaction of doing things that have personal value.
Earning Potential with Degree
The earning potential with a degree is a powerful piece of information to help shape the decision to pursue a degree. The likely earnings range depends on the career objective; researching the major that a student studies may provide general information about salaries. For example, the field of study or major in engineering may yield a statistical profile for salary in the entry-level, mid-career, and late career phases. This may be a helpful guide when comparing the costs and benefits of a degree. The more meaningful indicator would be the income profile for the particular area of engineering in which you plan to work. For example, computer engineering would offer a different salary profile and more specific information about employment today and the forecast for the next ten to twenty years.
The campus culture is an important piece of information when projecting four-years or more of attendance at a college or university. When attending on-campus education, students will be part of a social group and within a community culture. The campus culture can help, hinder, or have a little noticeable effect on a student’s performance. Students should consider the type of culture they prefer and determine if the likely on-campus culture might interfere with their learning experience. The ideal might be to match a student’s preferences with the campus culture of the selected school.
Religious and Other Affiliations
Schools with religious affiliations may offer courses and career options that are faith-based and promote the belief system of the affiliated organization. The faith or other affiliation can have varying degrees of visibility and participation in the campus culture, school governance, and academic requirements. Students considering faith-based or affiliated colleges should carefully examine the curriculum, academic requirements, and rules of student conduct to determine if they can be comfortable with the level of involvement required.
Location & Flexibility
The location of a school is important for the learning environment. It is also important for internship, projects, and post-graduate opportunities in the local area.
How good is the college or university you want to attend for on-campus and online programs. Sports teams is one consideration when looking at a school, but for the program(s) you might be interested in, how is the college ranked?