There are a couple schools of thought on choosing a major. Some will say you can figure it out after you get to college since you spend the first few years taking general courses. Others suggest investing more time on choosing a major before you start college to make sure you are closer to that final decision. The number of years in college and how much it costs you to go to college will be influenced by your approach.
Consider the type of lifestyle you want when choosing a major. If you have expensive hobbies or feel that having expensive things around you is important, you’ll need to choose a career where you can make more money. More years in college doesn’t necessarily mean more money, so consider all of your options when making a decision.
Types of colleges and the certificates or degrees you can earn
Community colleges offer associate degrees which usually take two years to complete if you stay on track with classes. Some offer bachelor’s degrees, often working with another university in the state. There are also community colleges that offer industry-specific training such as power plant, health care or oil field- related jobs.
Tribal colleges are operated by American Indian tribes and include Native culture and traditions in teaching and training. They offer many of the same degrees as other colleges. Your high school grades or ACT® scores are not considered when reviewing your application.
Technical colleges may also be called a trade school or vocational school. They offer one-year certificates or two-year associate degrees and are hands-on and job- focused. They place less importance on your high school grades than a four-year college or university.
This may be a good fit for you if you want a trade job such as an automotive technician, drafter, machine tool technician, welder, medical transcriptionist, dental hygienist or graphic designer. These are just a few examples of trade jobs you may enjoy.
If you are interested in a one-year certificate program, check with the financial aid office to see if the program is eligible for financial aid.
College and university
The difference between a college and a university is size. Universities have multiple schools within their systems; colleges usually have fewer options and often don’t offer master’s degrees.
Colleges offer bachelor’s degrees. Universities offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.
Choosing a college
If you would like to attend college in North Dakota, there are many options for state and private colleges, and even more when you add technical schools. Do a combination of online research and visiting with others to start your list. This helpful comparison tool may be handy as you compare colleges.
The cost of college should factor into your decision. Bank of North Dakota’s Regional College Cost Sheet compares the cost of attending college in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota and is updated annually. You can also use calculators on Bank of North Dakota’s website to help you make sound financial decisions.
Salary-to-debt calculator tells you how much student loan debt you can afford based on a certain salary.
Debt-to-salary calculator tells you how much salary you will need to support your student loan debt.
Making a college visit
It’s good to spend time on several campuses before making a final decision on where you’d like to attend. During your visit, picture yourself attending the school and imagining what could be. You should tour the facilities, meet students and staff and get a glimpse of campus life.
Contact the school’s admissions department and schedule a visit. When scheduling, keep in mind that a campus visit over summer break will provide a different perspective from that experienced during the school year. To get the most out of your college visits, you should prepare a few things ahead of time.
- Needs and wants list: This list should include the items you feel are important to succeed in college. If small class sizes and certain extracurricular options are important, ask about them. Assistance programs for special learning needs may be important to inquire about too.
- Your list of questions: What do you want to learn during your visit? If you want to talk with professors in a certain major, discuss that ahead of time with the admissions officer.
- A friend or family member: Ask a friend or family member to go with you. They can offer another perspective and may ask different questions.
- List of campus activities and attractions that interest you: Check out the school and community website to get a feel for the campus and community.
- A comparison tool: This can help you determine which of the colleges you’re considering are your top choices. The tool allows you to rate each college on items such as affordability, choice of majors and class size.
If you don’t have the time or resources to travel and see colleges, contact them and ask about resources they have available to help students experience what they have to offer. Many schools have online tools such as virtual tours and student blogs.
QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN CHOOSING A COLLEGE
- What do I want to major in?
- Do I want to be on a small or large campus?
- Do I want to be close to home?
- What is campus life like?
- What extracurricular activities does the school offer?
- What are the costs and average student debt?
- Which colleges have the major I’m interested in?
- What is the student-to-professor ratio? Are the class sizes large or small?
- What is the school’s graduation rate?
- What is the job placement rate?
- Do I want to graduate early? If so, does the college offer accelerated classes (e.g. two eight-week classes in one semester)?
North Dakota TRiO programs
If you are a first-generation college student, have a documented disability and/or come from a low-income household, you may be eligible to participate in a North Dakota college or university TRiO program. These programs are dedicated to providing students with the academic, financial and career resources necessary to succeed both in the classroom and after graduation. Services include personal and professional tutoring, career and transfer advisement, financial literacy training, study equipment for checkout and social events to enhance student interaction with faculty and peers.
Click here for a comprehensive listing of TRiO programs throughout the state of North Dakota.
Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)
If you are considering joining the military but still want to earn a college degree, look into North Dakota’s Army ROTC programming. Army ROTC is an elective curriculum you take along with your required college classes. As an ROTC cadet, you not only get to experience life as a traditional college student, you also receive formative training that prepares you for a career in the U.S. Army.
Introductory courses in army leadership take place during your first two years in college and do not require a military commitment. Advanced coursework in military tactics, team organization and decision-making take place during your final two years in college. Enrolling in advanced courses requires a commitment to serve eight years as a U.S. Army Officer following graduation.
If you are accepted into an Army ROTC program, you may be eligible for up to four years of full-tuition scholarship. The ROTC also provides additional allowances for books, fees and monthly living expenses.
Transferring from one college to another
It’s quite common for students to transfer from one college to another. Regardless of the reason for the transfer, it’s important to visit with admissions officers about the best options and ask if there are restrictions on transferring credits. You will also want to check if the college requires you to take a minimum amount of credits there to receive a degree from them.
Some students choose to start at a community college for one to two years and then transfer to another college or university to complete a bachelor’s degree. This may be a good option if you are concerned about student loan debt or are unsure about your major. Starting at a community college can give you time to figure that out before going to a more expensive university setting. Most community colleges are less expensive which can help reduce student loan debt, and if you attend a college in your community, you may choose to live at home to cut housing and food expenses.
Before leaving the community college you are attending it is important for you to check with the Registrar’s Office to see if you have met the requirements to receive an associate degree. Without taking this easy yet very important step, you will not officially receive your associate degree. Having that credential is a great way to jump-start your bachelor’s degree. More importantly, sometimes plans change and not everyone goes on to complete their bachelor’s degree which makes having that associate degree even more important.
Sometimes, a college isn’t a good fit for you and you feel you will be happier at a different college. Visit with the admissions officers right away as transferring credits from one school to another, whether it’s a technical, community or tribal college or university, can be challenging and you’ll want to carry over as many credits as possible.