I want a degree and I hear you. I am willing to put in the work to find a college that will fill my needs. But what colleges should I look at and what characteristics are important?
Very often the schools that are the wisest choice for you are in your own geographic area. Based on my discussions with graduates, I find there is little difference in value of degrees from most schools. (note: This does not apply to a small cadre of what I call nationally ranked top-tier schools. These include Ivy League schools and a handful of other colleges. They employ professors who are top ranked in their field and have excellent academic credentials. Additionally you are much more likely to start a career and have a professional level job after graduating from one of these schools.)
All of the other schools (over 99%) of all colleges are what I call second-tier schools. Most employ only academic instructors with little or no field experience. The education you receive is often spotty at best and employers generally have begun to shun these schools as a source of future professional level employees.
So if the result of your four years of college is no different at most universities, I often advise students to think of colleges in their own back yard where they can keep costs and debt down.
Also I advise students to look to schools where your money is not spent on things other than academics and professional placement services. Your tuition should never be spent to support a football or basketball team (including coaches’ salaries).
The most important characteristic of the school you attend must be a total dedication to meeting the students’ needs. This can usually be found in the stress on placement services. My book emphasizes the importance of this department in a second-tier university and how your campus visit and discussions with students and graduates are so important in identifying such a university.
Whatever you do, do not forget the importance of determining your own needs and making sure that the school you select can fulfill those needs. If you find such a school, apart from nationally ranked top-tier, this then becomes a top-tier school by your definition.