Attending college, community college, technical school, or university is a huge investment in your self and requires a huge investment from you. You are your most valuable asset, that is for sure, and college may be a great way to build you into what you want to be. Here I cover some basic information you need to know about how college works, what you get from it, what it costs, and how to find a good one for you. These are all important considerations.
What Do I Get From A College Degree?
There are two primary benefits you attain by earning a degree from a college, university, or technical school:
- You have basic exposure to the information, processes, and people involved in a career
- Employers know that you have that exposure
There are countless other secondary benefits, some of which I will list here, but the real benefit people get from going to college comes down to the advancement of or preparation for their chosen career or field.
I went to college to prepare myself for a career in software development and management and that degree served me well in allowing me in to the field above the entry level jobs available in testing and help desks. It turned out that I didn’t enjoy being a developer very much and so I quickly shifted to other roles and jobs in the software engineering space. My college degree set me up for success by exposing me to many different aspects of my chosen field.
Some of the secondary benefits from attending college are:
- Social interactions
- Exploration of careers and fields
- Personal independence
- Personal learning and growth
How Do I Choose A College or University?
The most important consideration is whether the school offers a degree in the career area or field that you are interested in. From this point you can use many other personal factors to decide which is right for you. The first step is to find some schools to apply to. From those that accept your application you then choose the school you want to attend.
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Another great way to find schools that are right for you is to search for local ones using google. If you simply search on Google for things like “Colleges In Washington” (put in your own state or country) or “Top Computer Science Universities” you will get plenty of results to look through.
The process of filtering the list of possible schools is a really personal one that depends on where you are in life and what you want to get from college. I used the following criteria:
- Did the school have the degree I wanted
- Was I comfortable on campus
- Were there social clubs I wanted to be a part of
- Was the campus near the water (for sailing) and the hills (for hiking)
As you can see, this is a very personal consideration. You should use the criteria that fits your situation.
What Are The Differences Between Colleges, Community Colleges, Technical Schools, and Universities?
All of these are “post-secondary schools” and the differences in the names indicate the level of degree that you can attain at that specific school. A Technical School or Tech School is more focused on providing hands-on training in the areas they offer classes. Community Colleges are generally focused on providing degrees that take just 2-years to complete and in offering continuing education courses. Colleges generally offer 4-year degrees in a variety of fields. Universities are essentially colleges and sometimes they may be larger, older, or focus additional effort on research in to arts and sciences that other schools.
What Are Online Universities?
These are accredited universities that focus on providing classes and programs where students complete the majority of their coursework via computer and study off-campus. They are gaining in popularity primarily because of the difference in cost compared to going to a physical school full time. The reason costs are so much lower is because the university doesn’t have to pay for property, buildings, physical access, campus police, cafeterias, and the other indirect costs of having a physical campus for the full student-body.
Generally online university programs involve attending physical classes, seminars, or trips from time to time and the requirements vary greatly.
What Does College Cost?
Every school will require significant investment from you either in cash or debt or both and different schools charge very different levels of tuition and fees. If you choose to be a full time student and live near campus living expenses need to be part of the consideration. Here is tuition information from the 2015-2016 academic year for some well known state colleges and universities in the USA.
- Arizona: $10,646
- Washington: $10,288
- Utah: $6,363
- Oregon: $9,371
- Michigan: $11,991
How Can I Pay For College?
Though college is generally quite expensive there are many ways to fund your education and many different paths you can take to a degree or certificate that make it affordable. Here are some ways to take control the up-front type cost of college:
- Seek financial aid, if you can get it
- Seek scholarships
- Work while you attend school
- Attend school part time and work part or full time
- Start a business that can pay for your expenses before attending college
The primary decision most people make, or make without really considering it, is how much debt they are willing to take on to attend college. Taking on debt, and the amount and terms of the debt you will receive are dependent on your credit score. This should be a primary consideration due to the expense and consequences of having debt when departing school, regardless of whether you earned a degree.
Want To Learn More?
Here are posts from MyFirstPaycheck on universities, colleges, financial aid, working while attending school, and many other topics related to going to school.