Choosing a college to pursue the career and life you dream about is one of the most important decisions you will make. Sometimes that decision can feel overwhelming, or even confusing if you aren’t sure what to look for in a program. And sometimes it’s the things you might not readily consider that can make a big difference in your experience at a school, your enjoyment of your program, and your preparation for a career. Here are three of those things that you can benefit from thinking about when you explore your college options and make your final choice.
When you’re looking for a College to advance your education and career, you will likely encounter plenty of data – stats about cost, duration, student to faculty ratio, and the like. But there is more you need to know about a college than just the numbers and facts that can be written on a page. You need to know not just what the college does but how it does it. How it feels to be a student there. What kind of environment you’ll be learning in. You need to understand and jive with the culture of the college.
Merriam-Webster defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” If we were all fish, the culture of a school would be like the sea we were swimming in. The kind of culture that the college creates determines the whole atmosphere of a program.
Every college will have a culture, whether they are intentional about it or not. At IWC, we make our culture a top priority because we know that it can make or break a student’s experience and success just as much as academics can. We strive for an exceptionally positive, supportive culture that helps inspire and encourage students as they pursue excellence. When we set the bar high and expect the very best from each person, we believe that a positive culture is the best way to support achievement.
With this kind of culture, the payback is clear. Our students and graduates report better motivation, loyalty, comprehension, endurance, and enjoyment from their studies due to the kind of culture we create. The Harvard Business Review agrees and reports the following conclusion from their recent studies on workplace culture: “Consistent with prior work, we found that cultural fit was, on average, positively associated with career success” (source). Similarly, in education, when you feel strong acceptance and a good fit with the culture at your school, you can be freed to work hard and succeed in your program.
No one type of culture is necessarily right for everyone. It’s important you do the exploratory work to find out what kind of culture exists at the colleges you are considering - and what kind of culture fits you the best.
When it comes to choosing an educational institution, you will likely encounter stats from colleges about whether they are “accredited” or not – and what kind of accreditation they have. Accreditation is a formal process by an outside entity to verify that a school or program meets adequate standards of quality. There are various levels and types of accreditation that a college can pursue, ranging from the state to national level. Each type has benefits for you as a student that you will want to ask about when you visit a college and consider when you make your decision.
Here is what accreditation looks like at Indiana Wellness College, as an example: As a career school, we are required to be accredited by the state of Indiana, through the Office of Career & Technical Schools. This is a necessary and basic accreditation. Several years ago, IWC chose to pursue national accreditation as well, through ACCET (the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training)- Add a hyperlink. In May, 2015, we became “nationally accredited.” This designation reflects a very rigorous process of accountability to uphold standards in admissions, graduation, retention, job placement, student satisfaction, and more. It gives you the assurance that what we say is happening really is.
Employers like to recruit from nationally accredited programs because they can automatically be more confident in the quality of education and preparation graduates have received.
A big plus for students considering accredited schools is that national accreditation allows programs to accept federal financial aid for students who qualify. Federal grants and loans can be key for many students trying to afford higher education, so be sure to choose a school with a level of accreditation to accept those forms of aid if you are interested.
Caring Faculty and Staff
This final one seems rather obvious, doesn’t it? Surely you have already thought about what the instructors and staff will be like at your school of choice. Of course, at some level, everyone who teaches and works at a school cares about the students and their success. But we imagine you are probably looking for more than just a feeling of being cared for. When investigating schools, you can – and should - look for tangible evidence that the people directing your education have your best at heart. What kinds of evidence might you consider?...
At IWC, we are proud that our students and graduates consistently praise our faculty for how incredible they are. And that’s not our word, it’s theirs. Our faculty have mastered the art of being both instructors and cheerleaders for our students, and this combination helps our students flourish in a challenging program and competitive job market. Pursue that same kind of advantage for yourself, and don’t settle for less, when you consider what the faculty and staff are like at the colleges you consider.
So, whether your program will be short or long, we encourage you to consider these institutional characteristics that can often be overlooked but will have a big impact on your educational experience. What else would you add to this list when choosing a school?