The time is now with us when high school seniors are getting serious about college applications. I have been involved in higher education as a teacher and administrator for more than three decades and it’s not surprising that I have some definite opinions on the subject. If I were talking with a high school senior trying to figure out what type of school to apply to, I’d say the following:
(1) A four-year college degree is not for everyone. Many people who go to a four-year college or university would be far better off either at a junior college or a vocational school.
Four-year colleges and universities are extremely expensive. Junior college followed by a transfer to a four-year institution will save you money and, furthermore, you may well have teachers who are just as good or better at the junior college.
You should always look at junior colleges nearby and see whether they offer the courses you will want for the first two years of your area of study. In particular, you should look at the size of classes, the qualifications of the instructors, and the credit-hour cost at every institution that you consider. In many fields, going to a junior college for two years to study will put you at no educational disadvantage and it could save you tens of thousands of dollars;
(2) Think about whether what you want to do really requires a four-year degree. Many very successful people — carpenters, plumbers, small-business owners, etc. — have either vocational-school degrees or two-year degrees. If you want to be a nuclear scientist, by all means attend a research university. If you want to work in the construction trades, a vocational school may be a better choice.
(3) Whatever type of school you choose, shop around. Don’t simply look at tuition; look at all of the other charges you may have to pay and decide whether the total cost of each school is justifiable. Your college education may well turn out to be the greatest expense you will ever have, and a bad choice can cost you tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
We in Kansas are fortunate in higher education. We have excellent public and private universities, private colleges, junior colleges and vocational schools. Where you go to school is not only an educational decision, but it’s also a financial decision. Make sure you make the right decisions educationally and financially. Talk to as many people as you can, not simply those with a financial interest in where you ultimately go. Do research and choose wisely. Your decision will affect the rest of your life.