Between saying and doing many a pair of shoes is worn out.
~Italian Proverb

Before you enroll a college, it is important to understand your educational goal. Knowing your goal will help you decide the type of college you will need to select to reach that goal.

Scott Dinsmore: How To find And Do Work You Love (TED Talk)

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Before getting too far into the topic of choosing to attend college, stop for a moment and think about the following questions:

  • What is your educational goal?
  • What are the top 5 criteria you would use in selecting a college?
  • What kind of degree or certificate will you need to achieve your educational goal?
  • Do you want to be full-time or part-time student?
  • Will you need to work while you are going to college? How much?
  • What are your priorities from a college?
  • What do you expect from your teachers?
  • What kind of support services do you need from a college?
  • What class size would make you feel comfortable?
  • Do you need support in improving your basic skills in Reading, Writing, Math or Speaking English?
  • What are you willing to pay for your college education?
  • How do you plan to finance your college education?

It is important for potential students to realize that every college has its own culture. Finding a comfortable match between student expectations and college expectations is essential for student success. Ultimately, college is a dynamic experience and the student is half the equation. The culture of a college plays a key role in finding a good match. It is important to take the time you need to make the decision about the college that is right for you. Rushing the process can lead to an unsuccessful match-up. Following a friend or family member to the same college they selected may also lead to a mismatched situation.

If possible, try to visit the college in person to get a feel for the campus and the setting. Are you looking for an urban, suburban, or online setting? The distance you travel to attend college will impact many aspects of your college participation. Location is an important aspect of the overall college selection process. The process of finding the right college for you will depend on your educational goal and your expectation for services from a college.

10 Factors to consider in finding the right college match for you

  1. Cost
    How important is the tuition cost to your decision? Tuition example: The average yearly tuition at Lane Community College is $4,275.00 as of this writing (find the most up-to-date info on the Lane College Tuition, Fees and Payments page). The average yearly tuition at the University of Oregon is $8,190.00 as of this writing (find up-to-date info on the University of Oregon Cost of Attendance page).
  2. Flexible Pacing For Completing A Program
    How convenient and flexible are the class times and locations? Are there evening and weekend offerings? Online or Hybrid courses?
  3. Your Work Schedule
    How will your employment affect your ability to attend classes?
  4. Open Access
    What are the enrollment requirements of the college?
  5. Teaching Quality
    Who will teach the classes you take and is the college accredited?
  6. College Size
    How big a campus are you comfortable with and what size classes do you expect?
  7. Support Services
    Will you want child care, computer labs, health services, parking, tutoring, financial aid, scholarships, or other services?
  8. Academic Reputation
    What do you know about the academic quality of the college?
  9. Variety of Certificate/Degree Options
    Are you interested in career pathway options or transferring credits to another school? Are you planning to use the college you select to attend as a stepping-stone to another college or program?
  10. Opportunity to play sports or participate in club activities
    How important is it to you to have activities to participate in outside of your course work?

Where can a student find out information about the factors to consider when selecting a college when evaluating a specific college? Many students would suggest Google or another online search engine, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, which may be helpful, but the place to learn the specific details of college is in their college catalog.

The most important book on campus: the College Catalog

A college catalog is the place a college puts all the information regarding the specific details and rules of the school. The purpose is to have all that information in one easy place for prospective students and current students. A school’s catalog contains all the information you need to know about living and learning at the school of your choice, so it can help streamline your college or degree research process. College catalogs are a long-standing tradition that pre-dates the Internet and websites. Many colleges are trying to find a way to make the information more available to students on websites and other social media.

The information in college catalogs changes as degree programs, school rules, and student expectations change. These changes make the catalog just as useful to current students as it is to new students. Catalogs are usually published every year, so make sure you’re using the most current version. Specific topics covered include:

  • Overview of the college’s history
  • Availability of financial aid and specific financial aid programs
  • Academic expectations
  • Degree programs and course descriptions
  • Tuition, housing, and meals costs/estimates
  • Campus life information
  • Mission statement/statement of faith for religious affiliations
  • School policies and student services offered

Finding College Catalogs

Most colleges give students access to the catalog on the school website. In addition, you may be able to pick up a printed copy on campus. Some colleges do a better job of making the transition to online information delivery and accessibility better than others. Finding easy-to-use online college catalogs may be frustrating to new college students. For this reason, some students prefer printed catalogs as they get acquainted with the framework of college systems.

What is the difference between a certificate, associate degree, and a bachelor’s degree?

The main differences between certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees boil down to these 5 factors:

  1. Time: How long does it take to earn the credential?
  2. Tuition: How many courses/units/credits will it take to obtain the credential and how much will that cost? This factor may vary from school to school.
  3. Admissions requirements: What the college expects your skill level to be prior to starting coursework.
  4. Level of study/Amount of Coursework: Will you study something very specific or something more general?
  5. Career opportunities: A certificate usually means you have completed a specialized form of training. It may demonstrate technical knowledge in a field and generally it is faster to complete than a degree. Sometimes a certificate can be a benchmark that applies toward a degree.

Associate degrees are commonly referred to as “2-year” degrees. If you can fix something or fix people, an associate degree may be what you are looking for. For example, health professionals, Information Technology, many high tech jobs, and culinary arts are examples of careers that do well with associate degrees. Associate degrees may be used as a stepping stone and transferred meet some of the general required classes for bachelor’s degrees.

Bachelor’s degrees are commonly referred to as “4-year” degrees. A bachelor’s degree extends learning and usually requires around 120 credits (about 40 courses) or more to complete, which is approximately twice as long as an associate degree takes to earn. These numbers vary based on whether the college operates on a semester or quarter schedule. If you want to pursue a career in teaching, engineering, architecture, business, or finance, a bachelor’s degree may be required.

Where can you find out what educational level is needed for a career?

The table below lists several types of careers. Evaluate each career and determine what kind of educational background a person would need for the jobs listed. Some careers may be suited to multiple levels of education and you may select more than one choice if applicable.

Try using a college catalog and/or online search engine to find the information needed to fill in the table below. Some answers will vary based on state regulations for the career.


Vocational Certificate Associate Degree Bachelor’s Degree No Specific Educational Requirement
Truck Driver
Massage Therapist
Energy Management Technician
Environmental Engineering
Early Childhood Education
Fitness Specialist
Dance Teacher
Computer Information Specialist
Computer Game Designer
Dental Assisting
Food Service Management


You may have noticed that the answers to the educational requirements for the careers listed in Table 1 may vary and some careers have multiple layers to their skill requirements and degree requirements. Early Childhood Education, for example, has a career pathway option. Students can earn a certificate and then go on to earn an associate degree and even transfer to earn a bachelor’s degree depending on the job aspiration of the student.

What is a Career Pathway?

A Career Pathway Certificate opens doors to your employment and educational goals. Each certificate requires just a few courses and is self-paced. The first certificate gives you a competitive edge when applying for an entry-level position.

Career Pathways: Lane Community College

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The Early Childhood Education program at Lane Community College is an example of a program that has a career pathway option that stacks to an associate degree. Career pathways can help students earn a certificate quickly and improve employment options, as well as serving as the beginning steps to an associate degree. Read the course catalog information linked above to see how the programs intertwine and give students multiple options.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of these educational outcomes? Fill in the table below based on your opinion.

Advantages Disadvantages
Vocational Training









Associate Degree (2-yrs)





Bachelor’s Degree (4-yrs)







Based on what you know so far about certificates and degrees, what will you be seeking as your educational credential?

Now that you have thought about what kind of certificate or degree you might need, where could you go to get that credential? Colleges can come in several forms. Some things to consider about the design of the college:

  • Profit or non-profit
  • Private or public
  • 2-year degrees or 4-year degrees
  • Accredited or non-accredited
  • Transferable credits or non-transferable credits

Where are you most likely to attend college? Let’s look at the statistics!

Statistics show demographic differences in student populations between public and private; and for-profit and non-profit colleges. The culture of the colleges may vary greatly based on these qualities.

Examine the following 2 charts. Based on your age and whether you plan to attend college on a full-time or part-time basis, what kind of college are you most likely to attend? Do you agree or disagree with the statistical prediction about the college you will attend?

4-year public: 88% under 25, 12% over 25. 4-year private nonprofit: 86% under 25, 14% over 25. 4-year private for-profit: 39% under 25, 70% over 25. 2-year public: 73% under 25, 27% over 25. 2-year private nonprofit: 61% under 25, 39% over 25. 2-year private for-profit: 47% under 25, 53% over 25.
“Full-time undergraduate enrollment patterns, Fall 2013” by National Center for Education Statistics is in the Public Domain
4-year public: 52% under 25, 48% over 25. 4-year private nonprofit: 34% under 25, 66% over 25. 4-year private for-profit: 22% under 25, 78% over 25. 2-year public: 55% under 25, 45% over 25. 2-year private nonprofit: 42% under 25, 48% over 25. 2-year private for-profit: 35% under 25, 65% over 25.
“Part-time undergraduate enrollment patterns, Fall 2013” by National Center for Education Statistics is in the Public Domain

Suggested Activity

Using your favorite Internet search engine, find out how many colleges are located in your area. You may be surprised by the results. In the Eugene, Oregon area, for example, you will find at least 6 colleges that vary greatly in their missions and student populations. One local college in Eugene only has 38 students. Can you figure out which one that is? Would that college be the right one for you?

Making the Choice

Ultimately, as a student, you will have to select a college that feels “right” to you. Complete the table below based on what is important to you as a college student.

Want Don’t Want


Flexible pacing


Interaction with teachers


Support services


Academic reputation


Certificate/degree options


Access to technology

Setting/commute time

Community/social interaction
Student Clubs/sports


How does the philosophy of Sam Berns relate to your decision to go to college?

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Suggested Readings

2012 National Research Report: The Factors Influencing College Choice Among Non-Traditional Students


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A Different Road To College by Alise Lamoreaux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.