Getting the right ‘fit’ crucial to choosing college, counselor says

The most difficult part of choosing where to go to college is the matter of getting the fit right – matching it to the student’s own needs and predilections. It’s not necessarily something you can do on autopilot. It can benefit from some thoughtful consideration, according to Brenda Tidwell, who should know.

As college guidance coordinator she works with school guidance counselors throughout the county school system as they try to assist graduating seniors in deciding what college to attend.

While seniors should have already completed applications and paperwork for entering college next fall, there may still be some final registration decisions to be made. The items that follow are Tidwell’s Tips for trying to get the fit adjusted properly. They fall into four categories. (Editorial comments are the newspaper’s.) Location

Distance from home: close enough to access your support system (money!) easily; far enough to breathe freely on your own.

Weather: could be important if it’s farther away than a couple of hours drive.

Campus setting: rural, urban, suburban; it’ll affect your outlook down the road; by the way, is it pretty? Does it strike you as a good place to learn?

Town/gown: how close is the campus to nearest town, and how’s the town? That can make a difference after the novelty wears off.

Geography: mountains, beach, lakes, etc. You won’t have tons of time for this if you’re a serious student, but you’re enrolling in college, not a monastery.


Size: relates to richness and diversity of the college experience, or to the distractions it creates, on the other side of the coin. Do you want excitement and the constant stimulation of new experience, or a more rigorous setting that encourages study, thought, and contemplation?

Atmosphere: it’s an intangible, but it really can affect how well you fit in, and it does vary from campus to campus; best way to pick up on it is to visit a time or two, take a tour, and talk to a few students who attend any campus you’re interested in.

Dorms: it’s a good idea to find what you’ll be getting into in the way of living arrangements – again, it begins to really count after the novelty wears off; don’t skip the housing tour.

Diversity: just a word on one of the easier kinds: if you’ve never had a roommate, you’re in for quite a learning experience.

Financial cost: two charts accompany this article that will give you some points of reference; if money’s an object, there’s actually quite a bit to consider.


Majors offered: compare structure of programs, areas of concentration, degrees offered, and curriculum in your major area of interest for the two or three colleges at the top of your list.

Academic reputation: some schools are known to be especially strong in certain specialties; make it your business to find out about your area of interest.

Teaching style

Class size: decide whether you can handle large freshman classes you will find in major universities; if not, choose accordingly.

Social Life

Clubs, extracurricular activities, recreational opportunities: part of the total college experience you won’t want to miss; keep that in mind while you’re sizing up the possibities.

Arts, music, drama, culture: you’ll probably have more exposure to cultural opportunities than at any other time in your life, and may establish lifelong patterns in these areas. Besides visiting and observing bulletin boards, you can pick up valuable indications of the extent and diversity of campus cultural life on college websites; be sure to take advantage of them. Same goes for clubs and other activities.

Greek life: a unique part of college life that is available only when you’re in college; check it out if you’re interested.

Sports: is such an important part of the college experience that it’s virtually become part of the popular psyche of college, for both graduates and nongraduates. Consider the fit with your personal sports outlook both for your college years and for the years to come.

Friends from home: going to college where there will be friends “in residence” can be an important part of adjustment to college for some; others may simply create a palette of new relationships while maintaining friends from high school when they return home for the weekend, vacation, etc. In a practical sense, friends from high school are good to have when you’re looking for a roommate or someone to share a house or an apartment with later on. Don’t hang back from making new friends, though. It’s one of the major benefits of the college experience. There’s a good chance your new best friend for life will be someone you meet during your college years.

“You need to consciously prioritize what matters to you,” Tidwell advises. “That will help you add or eliminate potential schools from your college search. With a realistic picture of what life is like on campus, you will be as prepared as possible to decide if a college has what it takes to give you a happy and successful college career.”

And don’t forget: most schools provide campus tours to prospective students. It’s well worth your time to spend an hour or two getting a feel for a campus and asking questions about the place you may spend the next two to four years of your life.

Annual tuition and room and board costs at Alabama public colleges and universities*

Institution Tuition R&B Total
1 Gadsden State Community College 3270 2800 6,070
2 Snead State Community College 3300 2778 6,078
3 Wallace State Community College 3570 3200 6,970
4 Jefferson State Community College 3540 7716 11,256
(8300) ***
5 Athens State University **** 3832 3840 7,672
6 Auburn University-Montgomery 5500 4500 10,000
7 University of West Alabama 5780 4636 10,416
8 University of Alabama-Huntsville 5216 6290 11,506
9 University of North Alabama 6912 6100 13,012
10 University of Montevallo 7260 5920 13,180
11 Jacksonville State University 7232 6162 13,394
12 Troy University 7990 6570 14,560
13 UAB 5360 9470 14,830
14 Auburn 7900 9630 17,530
15 Alabama 7900 10,206 18,106

*Source: “Getting In – Guide to Alabama Higher Education,” 14th edition, (2010-11). ** the number appearing in parenthesis below each college is its most recently-published student enrollment. *** college-provided housing not available at Jeff State; most students commute. **** upper division university; junior/senior level courses only.

Cost of degrees at Alabama public colleges and universities*

(Figures are averages for two years; totals in bold are for four years and are somewhat understated since tuition costs rise annually.)

Type of institution Avg. tuition + R&B
2-year community college (cc) associate degree ** $14,842
2-year upper division college*** bachelor’s degree 15,400
Total bachelor’s degree 2-year cc +2 year upper division $30,242
2-year community college associate degree 14,842
2-years at 2nd tier**** 4-year univ. bachelor’s degree 26,500
Total bachelor’s degree 2-year cc + 2 years 2nd tier univ. $41,342
2-year community college associate degree 14,842
2-years at 1st tier***** 4-year univ. bachelor’s degree 36,000
Total bachelor’s degree 2-year cc + 2 years 1st tier univ. $50,842
4 years at 2nd tier univ. bachelor’s degree $52,000
4 years at 1st tier univ. bachelor’s degree $72,000

Tuition increased an average 15.28 percent over the period 2007-8 to 2010-11 at the four community colleges included. Tuition increases published over that period for local community colleges: Jeff State, 6.4 percent; Wallace State, 16.7 percent; Snead State, 17.0 percent; Gadsden State, 21 percent. Athens State increased 6.68 percent.

Tuition increased an average 41 percent over the period 2007-08 to 2010-11 at the nine 4-year universities listed above. The University of Alabama-Huntsville’s 7.59 percent was the lowest. The highest was Jacksonville State’s 78 percent. Auburn increased 36 percent. Alabama increased 44 percent.

*based on tuition and room and board expenses for 2010-11 quoted in “Getting In – Guide to Alabama Higher Education,” 14th edition. ** based on average of four community colleges: Wallace State, Snead State, Gadsden State, and Jefferson State. *** i.e.. Athens State University, the only upper division school in Alabama. **** i.e. University of North Alabama, Jacksonville State. *****i.e. University of Alabama, Auburn University.

High school grads and college Where they went in 2008-09

Based on a survey of Blount County high schools in the summer of 2008, below is a summary of high school grads’ college plans for the 2008-09 school year.

Total number of graduates: 573

Total number planning to enroll in college: 412 (72 percent of grads)

Total planning to enroll at four-year colleges: 117 (29 percent)

Total planning to enroll at two-year colleges: 293 (73 percent)

Schools selected in order of number
and percentage choosing:
Wallace State 192 (48 percent)
Snead State 34 (8 percent)
Jefferson State 29 (7 percent)
UAB 26 (6 percent)
Alabama 21 (5 percent)
Gadsden State 14 (3 percent)
Jacksonville State 9 (2 percent)
UAH 9 (2 percent)
Auburn 8 (2 percent)
Shelton State 8 (2 percent)
22 other colleges 62 (15 percent)