college

College search: finding your best school

College consultants match teen with school
Highlights
  • Thirty-two percent of college students transfer at least once.
  • Students who transfer take an average eight months longer to graduate.
  • Only 66 percent of freshmen return to the same school the next year.

The college search is nearly over for many students this year. Acceptance packages start arriving in mailboxes around the country in February each year, forcing them to decide soon, "Which college is best for me?"

Unfortunately, they don't always make the right choice.

  • 32 percent of college students transfer at least once before graduating, says the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Only 66 percent of first-year college students returned to the same institution for their second year, according the most recent annual survey by ACT, the nonprofit organization that administers the college entrance exam by the same name.
  • Students who transfer take eight months longer on average to graduate, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

With average yearly tuition at $26,273 and $7,020 for private and public four-year colleges, respectively, according to the College Board, ending a college search by identifying the best institutional fit can save students and parents major headaches and big bucks.

Here's a review of the more common problems that cause transfers or dropouts, followed by experts' tips on what students should look for -- after the initial college search -- when they decide which school to attend from those that accepted them.

The problems:

Campus culture shock -- If the campus and its student body don't match the student's personality, the student will ultimately feel out of place.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Lifestyle transitions -- Students often underestimate the difficulty and challenges of collegiate life and have trouble handling transition issues, such as developing time management and study habits, forming new relationships and choosing a major.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Financial stress -- Students who must work to pay for college are at greater risk of dropping out than those who are more financially secure, according to an ACT college retention report.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Unprepared for college -- Most students are not prepared academically for college, according to an ACT college retention report.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Academic mismatch -- Colleges that are either too easy or too difficult, often cause students to transfer or drop out altogether.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Lack of academic guidance -- One of the primary factors affecting college retention is the quality of interaction a student has with a concerned person on campus, often in the form of an academic adviser, says an ACT report on improving retention.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Students outgrow the school -- "Many students are thinking ahead in terms of going to medical school or law school or getting graduate degrees," says Rosa Pimentel, associate director of undergraduate admissions at UCLA. They may find, though, that the school doesn't have the resources it needs to move them ahead.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
School selectivity issues -- An ACT survey shows 72 percent of students in "highly selective" schools -- those with the majority of freshmen in the top 10 percent of their high school class -- graduated within four years, as compared with 49 percent at "selective" schools; 31 percent at "traditional" schools and only 30 percent at "open enrollment" schools.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »

 

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