Choosing a School
Get advice on how to find the right school for you.
You’ve taken all the tests and made the grades, and now it’s the moment of truth—deciding where to go to school! With so many schools to choose from, it could take forever to find the perfect one for you.
Non-federal financial assistance programs and requirements often vary from school to school. Always check with your school before applying for financial aid.
The first step to finding the right program and type of school for you is to evaluate your interests. A self-assessment will help you examine your interests and goals, and offers ideas on fields of study and careers that might be right for you.
For information on careers, latest career fields in demand, how to get the training you need for the job you want, and where to look for a job, visit Career One Stop.
Things to Consider
Going to school is a big investment. Youʼre investing your time. Chances are youʼll also have to invest your own money or take out a student loan to go to school. So you need to be sure that youʼre choosing the right school.
- Shop around. Contact more than one school. If youʼre looking for vocational training, check the Yellow Pages under “Schools” for phone numbers. If your area has a community college, call the admissions office and find out what kinds of training the college offers.
- Visit the school. Call the school and schedule a visit, preferably while classes are being taught. Get a feel for the school; make sure youʼre comfortable with the facilities, the equipment, the teachers, and the students.
- Donʼt be afraid to ask! A good school will be happy to answer your questions about its programs. Ask the school about its students:
- Find out the retention and graduation rates –
- of entering first year undergraduate students who continue their studies the following year.
- Graduation rates measure the percentage of first year full-time undergraduate students who complete their program in at least 150% of the length of the program. For example, for a one-year certificate program, the graduation rate measures the percentage of students who completed the program within 18 months.
- What kind of job placement services does the school offer students and graduates?
- How many get jobs because of the training they received?
- To find even more information about schools youʼre interested in, visit the U.S. Department of Educationʼs College Navigator website.
- Check the cost. Make sure the school gives you a clear statement of its tuition and fees. Remember that any federal financial aid you get will be applied first to paying the schoolʼs tuition and fees. If thereʼs any money left over, the school will give it to you to help you pay for things such as food and rent.
- Call these numbers. Call your local Better Business Bureau, state higher education agency, or consumer protection division of your state attorney generalʼs office to find out whether there have been any complaints about the school. Call the toll-free number at the U.S. Department of Educationʼs Federal Student Aid Information Center (1-800-4-FED-AID) if you have any questions about your financial aid at the school. For general information about funding your education, visit the Funding Your Education section of this site.
- Inspector Generalʼs Hotline. Do you have concerns that your college, university, or trade school operates in a deceptive or fraudulent manner? If you suspect fraud, waste, or abuse involving federal student aid, e.g. Pell Grants, Direct Loans, etc., or if you believe that school personnel have misrepresented any aspect of the educational program, its cost, or its outcome, you should contact the Inspector Generalʼs Hotline at 1 800-MIS-USED or online.
Types of Schools
Most postsecondary schools can be described as public or private, two-year or fouryear.
Public institutions are state supported. Private for-profit institutions are businesses. Private not-for-profit institutions are independent — for instance, the school might have been established by a church or through local community donations rather than by the state government.
Four-year institutions offer bachelor’s degrees, and some offer advanced degrees. Two-year institutions offer associate’s degrees. Less-than-two-year institutions offer training and award certificates of completion.
You can use the U.S. Department of Education’s search tool to find information about schools in all these categories.
Here’s a more detailed description of the kinds of schools you might hear about as you plan for your post-high-school education:
College – A four-year college grants bachelor’s degrees (Bachelor of Arts; Bachelor of Science). Some colleges also award master’s degrees.
University – A university grants bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and sometimes includes a professional school such as a law school or medical school. Universities tend to be larger than colleges, focus more on scholarly or scientific research, and might have larger class sizes.
Community College – A public two-year college granting associate’s degrees and sometimes certificates in particular technical (career-related) subjects. Many students start their postsecondary education at a community college and then transfer to a four-year school, either because a community college tends to be more affordable than a four-year college, or because of the open admissions policy at community colleges.
Junior College – Similar to a community college, except that a junior college is usually a private school.
Career School, Technical School, or Vocational/Trade School – These terms are often used interchangeably. May be public or private, two-year or less-than-two-year. Career schools offer courses that are designed to prepare students for specific careers, from welding to cosmetology to medical imaging, etc. The difference between technical schools and vocational schools is that technical schools teach the science behind the occupation, while vocational schools focus on hands-on application of skills needed to do the job.
Distance Learning – Lots of schools are experimenting with distance learning–whereby students access lectures or course materials via the Internet or through other electronic media rather than in person. Whether a distance learning course or degree is right for you is a matter of personal preference. You should note that not every distance learning course or degree is accredited and/or eligible for federal student aid. To find out whether you can receive federal student aid for your program, check with your school’s financial aid professional. For more information about distance learning, click here.
Find the colleges right for you. Select criteria to match campuses from across the U.S.to your needs or if you already know the name of your college of choice, search by the name of the college.
Helpful Websites about the College Application Process
- California Colleges
- How to Get In
- College Board
- California Community Colleges Apply
- California Adult Schools
these services are listed only as a possible support. solaceSF.org is not responsible for the treatment you receive through these resources.