What Makes a College “Good”?

How do you know when a college is “good”? When you put together your final potential school list, consider also looking beyond the rankings of the characteristics that make the college right for you. What really determines the quality of a school is not how hard it is to get into, but rather what that school does for its students.

Look at the school’s retention rate. Do students return after their first year? Are they finishing their degrees? Students are more likely to stay and thrice at a school where they are engaged in learning and feel a sense of community that supports them intellectually, socially and emotionally.

When a school emphasizes teaching rather than research, it attracts professors who enjoy mentoring undergraduates. A student-centered approach in a school’s mission is a great sign. Universities may brag about award-winning professors, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much if undergraduates don’t have the opportunity to study with them. Current students are great resources for information on professors, experiences, etc.

Advising is also an important area where some schools excel. Students who receive ongoing support as they explore different majors or career paths make better decisions. During the college search process, advising doesn’t get much attention. But, it becomes so important once you’re in college. Consider asking schools you’re looking at if each student is assigned an advisor or whether students need to go to an advising center and see whoever is available. You should also ask how often students meet with their advisors within a semester, and if they are required to discuss course selections before registering for classes. A good advisor can help students make smart curriculum choices and graduate on time. If you’re a student who plans to go on to law, medical or graduate school, try to find advisors who help with these applications. Ask how many students have recently applied to these programs as well as the acceptance rate.

A student’s first-year experience is a strong indicator of quality in college. Most schools have a formal freshman orientation program, but it is even better if the first-year experience goes beyond the first few weeks of the semester. Typically these programs provide peer mentors, seminars with professors, etc.

When paired with experiential learning, academic learning has much more of an impact. Schools that have internships and service learning built into the curriculum provide a strong education that connects what you learn in class to the world. You can develop marketable skills that look great on your resume, and these skills can enhance graduate and professional school applications. Many schools mention internships on their websites but try to talk to current students that have done students to learn where they have done them, the support they get from internship advisors, how to find internships, etc.

Your school may require students to complete a senior capstone project upon graduation. This is a great way to incorporate what you’ve learned in your classes, get research experience, and connect your major with potential careers.

Tour guides hardly take families inside a school’s career center. It is important to learn if the college has a career services office that provides career exploration, resume and interview prep, alumni mentor programs and on-campus recruiting, and more.

These types of indicators of quality result in a more satisfying and productive college experience!

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