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Should I choose the college that's better overall or better for my major?

I sometimes wonder if my major will be better in a college that's deemed worse compared to other colleges and so should I go with the college that is considered better, or the college that is better for my major.

Thank you comment icon Hi Jonathan! I'd ask you to consider how set you are on your major. If you're pretty confident in which field you're entering, maybe choose a college that's better for your major. If not, choose a school that's better generally. However, I want to say that a lot of times in college people change their majors (which is totally fine!!) even if they enter pretty confident in their majors. Because of this, I'd recommend choosing a school that's better overall, so you'll have more flexibility (and probably a bigger variety of good majors to pick) if you do end up switching. Good luck!! Marlowe

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Subject: Career question for you

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Carl’s Answer

Hi Jonathan. Great question. I wish more students would think along these lines. This is very important. Choosing the wrong college can delay your career. It doesn't matter where your college is ranked in national publications if it isn't the right learning environment for you. My initial school was a top 20 engineering school but I end up transferring. The school wasn't compatible with my learning style. Although it was a high-ranked school, many of my classes involved students sitting in lecture halls with up to 300 students, unapproachable faculty, and a culture that really wasn't conducive to learning. Others however thrived in that environment because they had access to cutting-edge research and some of the top minds in their discipline. I would advise you to talk to current students and alumni of the schools you are interested in. What are they doing and ask if that aligns with your vision of success? Ask them about their college experience to see if that is a learning environment in which you can thrive. The end game ultimately is a successful career. You need to choose a college that will prepare you for that. Oftentimes the ranks aren't the sole determinant of your success post-college.
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Benjamin’s Answer

Both are important. Carl's answer is spot on, it is most important to find a college environment that suits your needs both academically and socially. Your goal in college should be learning and growing. The best program is worthless if you personally are not getting a lot out of it. Find a place where you can thrive, and recognize that it will be different for every person.

Once you've figured that part out you'll still have many options. School rankings ultimately aren't really that important, in my humble opinion. Going to a top school has some cache, but what you personally get out of the experience has far more impact on your career than the name of the school.

If you're not sure what you want to do, look for a school with many, wide-ranging opportunities. That was my path. I was able to explore and figure out what interested me the most. And, I had a great time doing it.

If you have very strong direction already, definitely prioritize your major. Take the time to connect with professors, graduate students and post-grads, and your peers. You will make connections that will serve you for your entire career. A great program at an average school is worth far more than an average program at a great school, especially if you maximize the experience.
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John’s Answer

School reputation does still hold some weight, but not as much as it used to. Certain career fields (think business) hold more value in where you got a degree from versus engineering cares more about the quality of the program and internship structure.
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Gerardo’s Answer

In my experience as a college student, I would suggest choosing a college that best suits your major. It doesn't have to be the best college but make sure you do some research before choosing. All colleges have different curriculums and not to mention different costs. Remember its ok to not go to a fancy college but remember you are paying for the education, so it's best to choose one that you feel will give you the best for the best price.
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Raghavan’s Answer

Great question! My suggestion would be to understand which environment is going to give you the best learning outcomes. The rankings are just measurements on some standardized parameters. While it's a good indicator or how effective an university is overall (and even for a given major), it doesn't mean the learning outcomes are going to be uniform for everyone.
It would be better to have some insights about the education methods, faculty expectations/availability, clubs/labs availability, student community, etc. before you make a decision. College visits, attending college information sessions, consulting your seniors, councilors would all help.
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Nathaniel’s Answer

Two considerations I haven't see mentioned yet are:

1) If your major is likely to lead to a career that will require masters or doctoral training, WHAT you learn as an undergraduate will be less important than WHO learns about you. You might want to choose a college that is part of a university with an outstanding graduate program in your field. Then, as an undergraduate, you will have the chance to meet and be met by the people who would provide your true professional education. Generally speaking, that ought to mean a good undergraduate program as well, but not always if, for instance, the faculty is principally focused on graduate students.

2) Be very sure that you get the most current information on any program that sounds attractive. I managed to get myself into a program hoping to study with a professor who hadn't been teaching for several years by the time I entered.
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Kelly’s Answer

Hi Jonathan,

That's a great question! I would say there are other factors you may want to consider as well when choosing a college.

1) Choosing a school that aligns with your learning style is also important. For example, I chose to get my MBA online because I liked the flexibility of being able to study when my schedule allowed. I'm not a great test-taker either, and the program I selected used writing and presentations in lieu of tests - which catered to my strengths. You may also look into how big classes are. Some schools have several hundred people in one class. That may be overwhelming for some students. Other schools have smaller classes. Which do you thrive in best? Do you want a setting that is more interactive, hands-on or engaging for students?
2) If your career path requires graduate work, you should consider how the school you want to attend for your undergrad plays into any future schools/degrees. For example, my nephew, who wanted to become a doctor, had to think about which schools have the highest acceptance rating for med school.
3) Reputation of the school in your field. Is their curriculum current with what's happening in the field today and the technologies being used now?

At the end of the day, it's your money, your time and your education. My recommendation is to choose a school where you learn the most and are best prepared to enter your field.

Wishing you the best!
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Bonnie’s Answer

How you pick a school based on your area of interest (not just your intended major) depends on some considerations. For example, you may believe you are dead certain you want this major. But look to the left and right at your ”Intro to College” class: as many as 2 or 3 of you are going to change majors, even though right now you feel you were destined to be a [insert career here]. So investigate the rate at which students at your target schools change majors. You’d be surprised how common it is.
Also, consider that universities are increasingly criticized for how long it takes students to graduate in general, how much it costs to attend college, and student expectations for return on investment. One way they address this is to require or pressure students into declaring a major very early and even as soon as when they matriculate (i.e., enrollment, not just application or acceptance). Maybe your potential schools will entice you with a plan to freeze, reduce, or discount tuition increases depending on if you are sticking to a pre-determined graduation plan. So It might be very costly in terms of time or money to change majors or take longer to graduate, once you’ve started down a path.
Ask your college recruiter, admissions, and financial aid counselors about this. And as always, READ THE FINE PRINT.
Then there’s so-called prestige factor. Think about this: Most companies care THAT you got a degree, not WHERE you got your degree. And frankly I’ll bet that starting salary won’t be bigger or smaller based on which college handed out your diploma. Sure, Top Drawer University may have bigger labs and more famous professors in your intended major, which you may or may not get access to unless you’re a grad student. Meanwhile, Smalltime University may give undergrads a chance to become a bigger fish in a smaller research pond where the professors are actually in the lab with you, not on the road giving presentations all the time. Another thing: Pay attention to class size in your major and, as Carl advises, consider the compatibility of the instructional methods used vs. how you prefer to be taught.
Yeah, that’s a lot to think about, so thumbs up for thinking about it in advance! Best wishes for a best fit,

Bonnie recommends the following next steps:

Ask people who really know you about your potential in lots of fields, not just your present choice of major
Find out how soon you have to declare a major
Investigate what would happen if you wanted to switch msjors
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M’s Answer

Hi Jonathan! This is a great question, and honestly depends on many different aspects. In my opinion I believe it would be best to go to the college with the most resources for what you want to pursue. So I would suggest choosing a college that best suits your major. At the end of the day, this will allow you to advance in your specialized field and grow in the aspect of your career you want to. Hope this helped, and wishing you all the best!
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Priya’s Answer

I would think to go with the college better for your major--I went to a college with average ranking but had the best master program in my field in my state. I do not regret that at all. I am unsure if it would be different for undergraduates. I would get some input from a guidance counselor too :)).
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Mary’s Answer

The only thing I can say from my own personal experience as an early career college recruiter, is that our company specialized in actuarial services we hired about 300 entry-level Actuaries and interns every year. Having said that we focused only on the colleges that had actuarial programs to narrow down the individuals that fit the model and the profile for those positions.
Other companies I worked for were looking to hire engineers, they went specifically to schools with engineering programs.
I can’t say for certain because I think every employer and every hiring manager can be different and it could be speculative, but I would say it makes sense to narrow in on the colleges that present the best course of study for your chosen course of work.
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Ryan’s Answer

Hi Jonathan!

My suggestion would be to choose a school that is specific to your major if you absolutely know (100%) that your major will not change during your time in school. There are a lot of people that know exactly what they want to do - and that is awesome. But if you do not - which is totally ok - or you think that you might change majors during your time in school, then maybe you look into the school that has a broader-based reputation.

I can tell you that I changed my major 2 times in the four years I was in college, so I definitely needed a school that had a broader-based reputation. But I also have friends that did exactly what they planned to do since they were 18 (or younger!) and loved it also.

Think about what you want for yourself and how sure of it you are - then trust your decision and go for it!

Ryan
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