4 Tips to Know Before Enrolling in College

This Feb. 2, 2007, file photo shows Calhoun College, one of the 12 residential colleges housing Yale undergraduates. There's push to strip the name of John C. Calhoun, a white supremacist, from the building at Yale University. Bob Child/AP

There was a time when accreditation was enough.  Prospective students know that a school was quality by asking one simple question, are you accredited and by whom. Those days are over. Accreditation is necessary, but no longer sufficient.

There are 4,200 accredited, college-level schools in the United States. That’s a lot.  The accrediting bodies work hard to weed out poor quality schools, but in today's economy, avoiding poor quality is no longer enough.  People need meaningful degrees from high quality schools that are well respected.  We talk to military folks every day who ask us how to navigate their school choices., and they are rightly concerned that they’ll make the wrong decisions and end up squandering their hard-earned GI Bill or Tuition Assistance dollars at poor quality schools.

Here is some guidance to any student looking to choose a school.

1)   Don’t Go It Alone: Find mentors who can advise you.

2)   Rankings Matter: They’re not the end-all-be-all, but they matter. If you’re going to spend the time and money to a school, go to the best possible school within your reach that is well regarded by others.

3)   Geography Matters: One of the main things you get out of school is relationships, that is, a network of friends. Go to school where you want to live because it will be a lot easier to live and work near where you go to school.

4)   Ask Hard Questions: When you talk to admissions officers, ask lots of questions and don’t be bullied. Recognize a hard sell and back away.

Here are 5 questions that are sure to get you a gut sense of whether the school is worth your time.

"Where do your graduates end up working?"

"What is most important to your college: rigor, convenience, community, or placement?"

"Can you please put me in contact with 5 of your alumni?” This should be easy for a good school."

"What accomplishments is your school most proud of?"

"What percentage of your students drop out in the first term, and what percentage of your graduates are employed within 3 months of graduation?"

Ask hard questions. Expect good answers.

You can also find information about graduation rates and costs on the Department of Education's College Scorecard.or the VA's GI Bill Comparison Tool.

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