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If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
--Derek Bok


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How To Narrow Your College Choices

Once you have decided which type of classes or program you would like to attend, the next step is to narrow your choices. This is where your research skills come in handy. It’s important to do a little investigative reporting about the schools to make sure that you find the one that best fits you. Fortunately, you can learn a lot even if you don’t have a lot of time. Here are some of the best ways to research a school:

College directories. There are numerous directory books and online guides that give you descriptions of the colleges and universities. Check a book out from the library, or look at an online directory like the one at

Websites and brochures. You can get a lot of information directly from the school itself. Many colleges and universities have extensive information about their programs on their websites, where you can also look at the course catalogs and request more information by mail.

Visiting. Nothing tells you better whether a school is a fit than visiting the campus. Sit in on a class, observe student interactions and ask questions of current students to get a true feel for what it’s like to be a student there.

Informational sessions. Many admission offices host nights where you can learn more about their programs either on campus or at community centers. This is a great way to learn a lot in an hour or two. Take the time to speak individually with a representative before or after the session. This may be the person who will review your application so it doesn’t hurt to leave a good impression. Be sure you have a list of questions to ask.

Admission office. If you aren’t able to make it to an information session, consider the admission officers as goodwill ambassadors of the college or university. They will answer all of your questions about the program. You can call or email them directly.

Financial aid office. Contact the financial aid office to find out about any special loans, grants or scholarships that you may be eligible for as an adult student. Some schools have scholarships that are specifically aimed at adult students.

Adult education office. Since your needs as an adult student are different than those of traditional students, some schools have offices that are specifically dedicated to you. This office will help you learn about special programs and services for adult students and may help you with the application process.

Current students and recent alumni. One of the best ways to research a school is to learn from those who are there now or who were recently there. Ask lots of questions about the program from current students or alums.

Besides these typical places to find out more about a school, use these less well-known resources to get the real scoop on student life:

Student publications. Because these are aimed at current students rather than prospective students, you’ll get the real story about what’s happening on campus, what issues are hot topics and the strengths and weaknesses of the school. Many school publications are available online through links on the school’s website.

Bulletin boards. By reading what flyers are up on the bulletin boards or kiosks, you can get a sense of the student activities, speakers who are visiting and research opportunities.

Individual student websites. Another way to get the students’ perspectives is from their websites. Many colleges have links to individual students’ websites where you can learn about how they really feel about their school.

Campus organization websites. Get information on campus organizations directly from the organizations themselves to see how active they are, what events they have and how you can get involved.

Department of your major. If you contact the department of your potential major, you may be able to speak with a current student or a department administrator. Ask about courses that interest you, research opportunities and what students in the major do after graduating.

Professors. Even though they are busy teaching, many professors like to take time outside of classes to help future potential students. You can get their telephone number or email address from the department. Ask about the classes that they teach and research that they are doing.