Unit 1: Launch

Chapter 3: Choosing A College To Attend

Alise Lamoreaux

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

– Nelson Mandela

Before you enroll in 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.

Video: 2 questions to uncover your passion — and turn it into a career

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

1) What is your educational goal?

2) What are the top 5 criteria you would use in selecting a college?

3) What kind of degree or certificate will you need to achieve your educational goal?

4) Do you want to be full-time or part-time student?

5) Will you need to work while you are going to college? How much?

6) What are your priorities from a college?

7) What do you expect from your teachers?

8) What kind of support services do you need from a college?

9) What class size would make you feel comfortable?

10) Do you need support in improving your basic skills in Reading, Writing, Math or Speaking English?

11) What are you willing to pay for your college education?

12) 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 cost-savings or 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? If you are undocumented, you qualify for in-state tuition if you attended elementary or secondary school in the U.S. for at least 5 years, attended and graduated from an Oregon high school for at least 3 years, and have plans to become a U.S. citizen or official permanent resident (HB 2787, tuition equity), enrollment status does not matter. You must complete the Oregon Student Aid Application (ORSAA) to be eligible for state financial aid and reduced community college tuition such as the Oregon Opportunity Grant and the Oregon Promise Grant. Veterans and active-duty members of the military are eligible for educational benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Some colleges offer tuition waivers or discounts for students over 60. Students in the foster system are eligible for financial services. There are also resources available to first-generation students  Formerly and currently incarcerated can qualify for benefits. LGBTQ+ students can find scholarships or grants from organizations.
  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?  Does the class have a short term?
  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? If you went to high school or college in another country, you can have previous work experience or education credentials, except for professional licenses or state certifications, recognized in the U.S.
  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 need on-campus child care, computer labs, health services, parking, tutoring, financial aid, scholarships, or other services? Many scholarships do not require any proof of residency or citizenship.
  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 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 social media.

The information in college catalogs changes as degree programs, policies and procedures, and student expectations change. These changes make the catalog just as useful to current students as it is to new students. Catalogs are published every year so make sure you’re using the most current version. Students are required to follow all the degree requirements in order to graduate for the catalog year students entered the university. Requests to change catalog year should be made before a student files an intent to graduate. Catalogs expire every 7 years. 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 a LOT from school to school and state to state. It also depends on whether you will have in-state or out of state tuition (for more information, see Unit 10).  Here are the approximate range of costs per year for different kinds of institutions:
    Community colleges: $4,100 to $9,500
    Public University: $4,500 to $40,000
    Four-year private schools: around $38,000+
  3. Admissions Requirements: This is what the college expects your skill level to be prior to starting coursework. If you are not a native English speaker, a minimum score of 500 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam or an equivalent test is required.
  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 “two-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 credits from an associate degree can often be transferred to meet some required classes for bachelor’s degrees.

Bachelor’s degrees are commonly referred to as “four-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, Occupational Outlook Handbook (released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) https://www.bls.gov/ooh/ or O*NET (Occupational Information Network) https://www.onetonline.org/ to find the information needed to fill in Table 3.1 below. Some answers will vary based on state regulations for the career.

Table 3.1. What is needed for these careers?

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

Table 3.2. Advantages and disadvantages of educational outcomes

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 two 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.

“Full-time undergraduate enrollment patterns, Fall 2019” by National Center for Education Statistics is in the Public Domain

http://”Part-time undergraduate enrollment patterns, Fall 2019″ by National Center for Education Statistics is in the Public Domain

Suggested Activity

Using College Navigator – National Center for Education Statistics, you can find out how many colleges are located in your area. You can also search for schools by the type of credential, location, cost, and student body size.. You may also want to take a look at the 2022 Best Colleges | College Rankings and Data | US News Education for content and rankings on colleges. The College Search – BigFuture | College Board includes diversity, sports and activities, and transfer credits in your search. Finally, College Scorecard allows you to search graduation rates and average annual cost of schools across the country, along with median salaries of graduates in different majors. The Campus Pride Index provides a rating out of five stars for LGBTQ+-inclusive policies and programs. It also provides a Trans Policy Clearinghouse where you can view schools’ specific policies for transgender students.

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.

Table 3.3. What is important to you as a college student?

Want Don’t Want


Financial Aid



Flexible Pacing


Interaction with Teachers


Support and Advising Services


Size of Institution



Academic Reputation


Certificate/Degree Options


Access to Technology
Geographic Location


Setting/Commute Time


Community/Social Interaction

Student Clubs/Sports


Video: Karen Hernandez “On Being an Undocumented Student, Formerly Incarcerated, and a Mom”
How does the video relate to your life and to your decision to go to college?

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Lamoreaux, Alise. A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018. Located at: https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/collegetransition/chapter/chapter-2/  License: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Reformatted. Added Learning Objectives. Removed some information specific to Lane Community College.

Kirabo, Noeline. “2 questions to uncover your passion — and turn it into a career.” TED Women 2019. Located at: https://www.ted.com/talks/noeline_kirabo_2_questions_to_uncover_your_passion_and_turn_it_into_a_career

License: CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International.

All rights reserved content:

Hernandez, Karen. “On Being an Undocumented Student, Formerly Incarcerated, and a Mom.
Located at: https://youtu.be/36m1o-tM05g

License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Blueprint for Success in College and Career Copyright © 2019 by Alise Lamoreaux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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