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Things to Consider When Choosing the Right Post-secondary School and Program

November 27, 2023Back to Learning Centre

Choosing the right school for your post-secondary studies can feel daunting. So many factors make a school a “good fit,” and it can be hard to know, without attending, which school is right for you. From campus life to academic practices and even post-graduation opportunities, knowing what a school has to offer you is an invaluable factor in selecting the most promising environment for your success. While you can’t predict the future, and it’s unlikely for a school to offer everything on your wish list, here are a few things to think about when deciding which of your acceptance letters to respond to.

Tuition and costs

In the movies, there’s a last-minute scholarship or a wealthy family member who comes through in the nick of time. In real life, if your dream program comes with a steep price tag, it may cause stress and could result in significant student debt after graduation.

Don’t let that discourage you! There are a lot of ways to build up your savings like scholarships, part-time work, or exploring work-study options. Get ahead of that first semester bill by researching what resources are available to you and when you might need to apply for them. Don’t underestimate the amount of money you can earn through scholarships and bursaries to put towards your dream school! In Canada, scholarships can range from a few hundred dollars to covering the full cost of tuition and living expenses that can be received in one-time payments or annual funding throughout the duration of your program. Scholarships can be awarded for academic excellence, to folks who identify as minorities, lower-income families and so much more.

If you don’t mind considering a similar, but less expensive, program look into the differences between them, and which could be better for you.  Graduating debt-free rather than worrying about paying off your loans may be worth it in the long run.

School (or program) size

There are some advantages to a large college, university or trade school. At a larger school, there are often more classes, schedule flexibility, specialized electives to choose from with instructors at the top of their field, and classmates from diverse backgrounds. A larger school can also offer a larger pool of people to network with, and more resources.

Small schools aren’t inferior, though! They have a more intimate feel, and you’ll still be able to network with others and access good instructors, but on a smaller scale. You can enjoy classes with fewer students and the chance to personally connect with more people on campus, including your professors.

Can’t decide? Some schools offer the best of both worlds by having colleges or self-contained trades programs available on a larger campus. Consider your learning and working style in relation to what environment might help you do your best. If one-on-one contact with teachers and instructors is beneficial to you a smaller school could be a better fit. If you like the idea of a more immersive campus life, a bigger school with a vibrant student culture is probably more your beat.

Distance from home

Are you hoping to commute to school or live on campus? If you’re considering school in a different city from your hometown, would you like to return home for regular visits? While this isn’t directly related to your school experience, it’s still essential to take it into account.

If you’re ultimately someone who wants to stay connected with their families and longtime friends, it could be a big adjustment to live in another province or country for school. Alternately, if you’re sure you want to live on your own, you might find attending a commuter school unsatisfying and inconsistent with the goals and vision you have for yourself.

Program type

Compare the quality, delivery and format of the programs you have on your shortlist. Some programs are offered entirely online, others fully in-person, and some combine elements of both. Maybe it’s easier for you to learn in workshops or discussion groups, or you prefer listening to pre-recorded lectures in your own time.

Some programs are accelerated or shorter in duration than others, so you’ll be career-ready fast. Others might have an experiential learning component, such as co-op or an internship, to give you work experience before you can graduate.

Certain schools are also well-known for specific programs, which could give you an edge when you graduate. That said, this advantage might be disproportionately emphasized – after all, graduates from any institution can be successful in their fields. These are all just variables you should take into account when selecting a school.

Still stuck? Going on a campus tour is a good way to get a feel for your chosen schools before you decide. Physically being on site can help sway you between two close contenders. Seeing the classrooms and facilities up close and experiencing the culture of the space will help you feel confident in choosing where to enroll as a student.

Written by Embark

Embark is Canada’s education savings and planning company. The organization aims to help families and students along their post-secondary journeys, giving them innovative tools and advice to take hold of their bright futures and succeed.