According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are nearly 3,000 four-year colleges in the United States. Here are some key differences to consider when choosing which one to attend.
Cost. The average yearly cost, including tuition, room and board, for a public university in 2010 was nearly $16,000. For a private school, the average cost was more than $32,000. Most students receive some form of financial aid, but it's the applicant's responsibility to find and apply for grants and loans.
Size. The main campus of the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, is home to more than 56,000 students—and that's not even the largest campus in the United States. With so many students, it would be easy to go unnoticed. If that's what you prefer, then a large campus like OSU might work. If you thrive in smaller settings where your teachers know your first name and where your classmates aren't complete strangers, then you'll want to opt for a smaller school.
Location. Some students prefer to stay near or live at home while attending college. Some need to go to school far away. Others want to be close enough to visit regularly but far enough away to experience independent living. Weather plays a role, too. If you hate the cold, the University of Alaska-Anchorage may not be the best school for you. If you love the sun and the beach, the University of Hawaii is looking like a strong candidate. Be sure, however, that the recreational opportunities don't become a distraction.
Curriculum. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the most popular majors for college graduates in 2010 include business, social sciences, health professions and education. If you major in those fields, it should be easy to find a university that caters to your needs. You may, however, wish to seek out the school that prepares its students best. When researching a university, make sure its strengths match your interests.
Social needs. It doesn't matter how academically excellent an institution is if you don't feel like you belong. Find out about social clubs and organizations before handing over tuition money. Religion also plays a role in the social aspect of attending college. Major universities that incorporate religion into the curriculum include Notre Dame, Southern Methodist University, Brigham Young University and more. Public universities often have religious organizations affiliated with the school.