Other factors in choosing a college
What to look for
If you read the previous chapter, you should have a good idea about what types of colleges are right for you. But there are many other factors to consider in choosing a college.
Accreditation and academics
If you want your degree to be valuable in the job market, you should attend an accredited college or university. Accreditation is a long, complicated process for an institution, but all you need to know is if the colleges you’re considering are in good standing with the regional accrediting agencies (for example, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools). Don’t assume a college is accredited — find out. Colleges usually print this information in their academic catalogs and recruiting websites, or you can ask the admissions staff.
In addition to institutional accreditation, academic departments or programs may be further accredited. This tells you that the program meets additional standards of quality and is recognized nationally for doing so. If you know what you want to major in, it is wise to ask about the program’s accreditation so you know how it stacks up to national standards for excellence.
Many colleges may have national reputations for excellence in the academic department, program or faculty. Find out about the curriculum and faculty in your proposed major.
Ask about internships or other hands-on experience in the field before graduation.
You can look at college rankings, but keep in mind that the criteria used may be different from your own. Most national rankings factor in national reputation, endowments and alumni support, and thus may favor large, private colleges and universities. A degree from a state university can be just as valuable as a degree from an Ivy League university or a prestigious private university.
You should ask about a college’s student-faculty ratio. A higher number is less preferable than a lower number. Keep in mind that the ratio is not the same as the class size, and that freshman classes are typically larger than junior or senior classes.
UNT is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Ga. 30033-4097, telephone 404-679- 4500; inquiries should relate only to the accreditation status of the institution) to grant bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Many of its degree programs are further accredited within their respective disciplines. UNT has many nationally recognized programs.
The professors at a college are more than just teachers. They should counsel you about career pursuits, help you identify your special strengths, act as your mentors as you proceed with your education and, if warranted, write recommendations for your first job. So choose a college that has qualified faculty members who can provide avenues into the real world through internships and jobs and who genuinely care about your well-being. They should be experts in their fields.
If you’re certain of your major, the best way to assess whether you’ll “click” with the faculty is to visit the campus and chat with professors. Ask about the average number of students in classes in that department. Find out what kind of hands-on experience you’ll get in class and what internships are available.
Remember that some colleges allow graduate students to teach classes. Check to see how many professors (rather than graduate students) will be teaching classes in your major.
UNT employs 1,035 full-time faculty members, with 85 percent of them holding the highest degrees in their fields. Faculty members are outstanding scholars and teachers, and many are widely recognized in their areas of study.
Choosing the right college for you means choosing a place to live for four years or more. For some, leaving home is not an option. For others, going hundreds or thousands of miles away is too difficult. Still others relish the idea of going far away from their family and putting physical distance between themselves and their high school.
If you feel that the whole country is open to you, geography and climate should also play a role in your decision. Think about whether you’d like to live in another state while attending college or whether you have a strong desire to live in the mountains, the desert or a climate like the one in Texas.
In addition to distance from your home, consider how the college’s location will affect your education. Colleges in rural towns offer few distractions when you’re studying, but you may have a hard time finding extracurricular off-campus activities on the weekends. Attending a college in a large city offers more entertainment and internship or job opportunities, but it may have drawbacks such as more expensive housing and higher crime rates.
UNT is in Denton, a progressive city of nearly 120,000 people and about 40 miles north of Dallas and Fort Worth. Denton offers a college town atmosphere with all the advantages of a big city nearby. In addition, UNT Dallas offers convenient access to many programs for students in Dallas and Ellis counties. UNT Dallas moved to a 266-acre campus in 2007. UNT Dallas will become the city’s first public university in 2010.
When choosing a college, it is helpful to narrow your choices by deciding what college size best fits your needs. Large and small are relative terms, of course, and 5,000 students may seem large to a student from a tiny high school.
Generally, large colleges offer a wide variety of majors (and concentrations within those majors), while very small schools often focus on the liberal arts or a few specialties.
Large universities often give you the opportunity to meet people with varied backgrounds, cultures and interests. In general, large universities offer extensive resources, a number of residence halls, and many activities and student organizations. However, some students may feel overwhelmed by the number of students.
Small colleges offer an intimate setting where you get to know just about everyone on campus and they all get to know you. Some students find this comforting, while others find it restrictive.
UNT enrolls more than 36,000 students representing 46 states and more than 140 countries. The student body is diverse and is the fourth largest enrollment in Texas at the undergraduate level. UNT has 14 residence halls that house more than 6,000 students, making it the largest residential campus in the region. Two residence halls opened in Fall 2007: Honors Hall, which is exclusively for Honors College students, and Legends Hall.
You probably know that the price tag for a college education varies widely, even among private colleges. Be sure to consider that college costs include more than just tuition. There are fees, textbooks, housing, food and other expenses such as parking and travel (if the college is a considerable distance from your home).
College fees may include additional costs for nonresident or out-of-state students, computers, health services and student activities. A number of courses (such as science and computer classes) require a lab fee for materials and equipment, adding to your total cost for the semester.
Some colleges lump housing and food costs together, commonly called room and board. If you prefer to cook your own food, ask if the college has apartment-style housing that includes a kitchen.
When choosing a college, select a few schools within your price range and some above your price range. See the chart on the Preparing for College page to help you compute and compare costs.
All the costs may seem overwhelming, but most schools offer many types of financial aid. It is possible to get both federal financial aid and scholarships. Paying for school is discussed in detail beginning on the Paying for College page.
Because UNT is a public college with state assistance, students get the quality of a private-school education without the high price tag. UNT has been ranked one of America's 100 Best College Buys® for 17 consecutive years.
You will choose your primary course of study, known as your major, from the college’s academic programs. For most degree programs, students are required to take basic courses, including English, history, math and political science, which, along with introductory courses in their major, fill much of their first few semesters. During their junior and senior years, students take advanced courses concentrating primarily on the major of their choice.
Some students already have their lives planned. They have chosen a profession and know the major and degree(s) it will take to reach their goals. Others don’t know the exact career they want to enter, but they know they’re interested in a general field. Some, however, have no clue about the future. These students should enlist career counselors and take aptitude tests to help focus their interests and abilities.
Don’t worry. There are colleges for all types of students, and the average student may change his or her major several times while in school. Colleges offer a variety of majors, and some also may have counselors specially trained to work with undecided majors.
UNT offers 97 bachelor's, 81 master's and 35 doctoral degree programs. In addition to academic advising and career counseling, UNT has several counselors who specialize in working with undecided majors and a career center to help you in your job search when you graduate.
Going to college is like going to a whole different world. The right college should provide services and resources to help you adapt. So when you’re looking at colleges, consider resources such as health centers, libraries, counselors and computer labs.
Some colleges offer minimal health services. Others have health centers with doctors on call 24 hours; others close at 5 p.m. like doctor’s offices. Depending on the institution, you may receive free medical services, paying only for prescriptions.
If you own a personal computer, you can take it to college to write those midnight papers and lab reports, but if you don’t, you’ll need resources on campus. Most schools have IBM-compatible PCs and Macintosh computers available for student use in open-access labs across campus. Some colleges have computers in residence hall study rooms. Many provide free Internet, wireless and e-mail access. For student convenience, some colleges have computer labs open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Many college students find the library a great place to study, even if they’re not doing research. When looking at colleges, consider their libraries’ resources. Ask about the availability of Internet resources and staff to help you navigate the web. Check out the libraries’ hours and what days they’re open.
UNT has 13 open-access computer labs, wireless access in most campus buildings and free laptop checkouts in two libraries. UNT Dallas has the region's first virtual library. UNT's Health and Wellness Center employs doctors and nurses, provides services such as X-rays and lab tests, and fills prescriptions.
The main idea is to get a high-quality education while you’re at college, but you can’t study all the time. You need extracurricular activities to make friends, relieve stress and have fun. Most schools offer a variety of student organizations. See what kind of clubs the college offers that match your interests. Inquire about the organization’s activities, members and qualifications.
College is a great place to take a leadership role. It’s a great experience for you and looks wonderful on your résumé when you graduate. Look into leadership training or opportunities to be an officer or leader in the organizations that interest you. Positions also are available in student government, activities planning councils, residence halls, honor societies and other groups. Don’t be shy – you’ll have a richer college experience if you get involved.
Campus life also means football games and other athletic events, concerts, plays, dances, movies, intramurals (informal team sports) and dozens of other activities. Check out what’s available at the college you’re interested in. Most institutions have a central calendar or an office that schedules all the various student events.
UNT has more than 300 student organizations, including many intercultural organizations and 39 fraternities and sororities. Leadership and training opportunities are abundant. UNT also participates in NCAA Division I athletics.
Safety and security
As peaceful as college campuses appear, it’s easy to forget that not all campuses are equally safe. Although students want to feel safe on campus, crime may spill over in urban campuses and, of course, can occur anywhere.
Every college is required to publish crime statistics annually, including the number of motor vehicle thefts, burglaries, aggravated assaults, robberies, rapes, murders, liquor violations, drug abuse violations and weapons possessions on campus. Check out the situation at any campus you are considering. Ask about lighting and the availability of police escort services at night.
UNT’s Eagle Alert system sends voice and text messages to students if there is an emergency or closing affecting people on and around the campus. UNT is well lighted at night and patrolled by campus police, which can provide students escorts at night for an extra measure of safety. UNT’s e-ride system provides on-demand rides from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day in a lift-equipped ADA bus. UNT is the first university to provide this service.
When choosing the right college for you, also consider the intangibles. Some examples:
- Are things happening on the campus — conferences and lectures, new buildings being built, a sense of energy about the future?
- Does this college seem student focused? Are enrollment services scattered in half a dozen campus buildings or grouped together for students’ convenience? Are staff members friendly and helpful?
- Do the students on campus seem fulfilled and happy to be there?