5 Things to Consider When Choosing Colleges

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With college application season fast approaching, two recent studies might help you decide where to go and what to major in. Some of their advice isn't so obvious.

I’m graduating from college in May, and I’m happy it’s almost over – especially because my tuition has gone up every single year.

Money Talks News has already told you about the cheapest and priciest colleges in the United States. But up-front costs aren’t the only things to consider, according to two new studies…

  1. Kiplinger magazine has released its Best Values list, ranking public universities on how fast they get students out into the real world and how much financial help they provide – and how much debt the average student will be burdened with at graduation.
  2. It’s no secret that my communication degree will be worth much less than my friends’ engineering degrees, but a new study from Georgetown University says there’s more to consider than just that. Like unemployment rates. Architect majors, for instance, might earn more than social work majors. But unemployment among the former is running at 13.9 percent compared to the latter’s 7.3 percent.

And according to The Miami Herald, some people say college ranking lists are arbitrary, anyway. As if in response, Kiplinger’s explained its breakdown in detail…

  • 33 percent: How much the degree costs/how much help students get to pay for it
  • 22 percent: Academic excellence, from high standardized test scores to how hard it is to get in
  • 18 percent: How long it takes a student to graduate
  • 14 percent: How much the student will owe at graduation
  • 13 percent: Student-faculty ratios and general academic support for students

So what can we learn from all these recent reports? Well, there are many ways to save for college that might not seem to make sense at first…

1. Smaller colleges doesn’t always mean better colleges

First place in Kiplinger’s list went to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Clocking in around 18,500 undergraduates and getting 76 percent of students out into the world in four years, UNC at Chapel Hill gives almost $11,000 of financial aid  (if you qualify) to in-state students. Most students walk out owing a little more than $16,000.

But second place is the surprising one: Going to college football powerhouse University of Florida. Home to more than 50,000 students, UF’s total tuition of $15,526 – $37,803 for out-of-state – is less than the national average. And student debt at graduation is almost the same as UNC at Chapel Hill’s, at $16,013.

2. Competitive colleges don’t always mean expensive colleges

In third and fourth place are two elite Virginia universities. While both of them have higher price tags than UNC and UF, they also provide more financial aid – which means their students don’t owe much more than the first and second placers’ students.

  • University of Virginia has almost 16,000 undergraduate students, and its total tuition is $21,626 ($45,948 out-of-state). But its graduates only owe an average of $19,384 – just $3,000 more than at UF.
  • The College of William and Mary has a mere 5,898 undergraduates, and its student-faculty ratio is an amazing 12:1. Total tuition is $23,054 ($45,331 out-of-state), but the graduate’s average debt is a little more than $21,000 – still less than the annual tuition price tag. They get 82 percent of their students out in four years.(Famous alums include Thomas Jefferson and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.)

3. Then again, cheap colleges aren’t necessarily good colleges

The cheapest school in the top 10 is another in Florida: fifth-placer New College of Florida. At 801 undergraduates, there are just 10 students for every professor in the liberal arts college. With most students graduating with less than $12,000 in debt – half the national average – it didn’t rank higher because only 5 percent of its students graduate in four years, and it provides a lower variety of choices for majors.

4. A degree doesn’t mean a job

It’s no surprise that the humanities scored highest in the category of unemployment, landing two of the top three spots, but who made first? Those architecture majors we mentioned earlier, with that 13.9 percent unemployed for recent college graduates. The top three major types compared by unemployment:


  • Recent grad: 13.9 percent
  • With experience: 9.2 percent
  • Graduate degree: 7.7 percent


  • Recent grad: 11.1 percent
  • With experience: 7.1 percent
  • Graduate degree: 6.2 percent

Humanities and Liberal Arts…

  • Recent grad: 9.4 percent
  • With experience: 6.1 percent
  • Graduate degree: 3.9 percent

5. Not all majors are created equally

Pre-med undergraduates make pennies, but of course, they haven’t become doctors yet. Yet even at the graduate level, the computer geeks beat them out for second place overall, leaving the engineers in first place. The top three major types compared by annual paychecks:


  • Recent grad: $55,000
  • With experience: $81,000
  • Graduate degree: $100,000

Computers and Mathematics

  • Recent grad: $46,000
  • With experience: $76,000
  • Graduate degree: $91,000

Science – Life/Physical

  • Recent grad: $32,000
  • With experience: $60,000
  • Graduate degree: $87,000

For more, check out 6 Top Tips for Finding College Aid and 8 Smart Tips for Veterans Heading Back to School.

Stacy Johnson

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