Not sure what college or career school might be right for you?

Learn about steps you can take to research possible colleges or career schools.

Choosing a School

While getting the right education and training will help you get a better-paying job, going to college or career school is a big investment in time, money, and effort. Make sure to take your time and research your options.

How do I find the right college or career school for me?

Types of Schools

There is a wide array of schools available for higher education. Options include two- and four-year colleges and universities, vocational, trade, and career schools, online schools, and graduate schools. Different schools serve different purposes. Make sure you choose the type of school that helps you achieve your goals.

Remember that financial assistance programs and requirements can vary from school to school. Plus, not all colleges and career schools participate in the federal student aid programs. Always check with a school to find out what financial aid is available there.

Assess Yourself

Understanding your career goals and options (and their earning potential) will help you find a college or career school that meets your needs. The Career Search will help you match your skills and interests with potential careers.

Use the College Search Tool

The U.S. Department of Education’s college search tool, College Navigator, is a way to find colleges and career schools that may fit your needs. You can search for schools by location, degrees offered, programs and majors, tuition and fees, setting, size, and much more. College Navigator allows you to compare schools, save your session, and export your results into a spreadsheet.

Check Out Schools (In Person or Remotely)

To help you narrow down your college or career school options, try the following:

Your education is a major investment, so find out as much information as you can—before you enroll. And because each school may offer different financial aid packages, you should consider applying to more than one school. For more information about what you should be doing to get ready for college, use our checklists for help.

What should I consider when comparing schools?

As you research colleges and career schools, consider such factors as cost, location, accreditation, and more.

To find the information listed on this page for a specific school, check the school’s website or search for the school using the U.S. Department of Education’s college search tool, College Navigator.

School Costs and Net Price

Financial Aid

  • Many students worry that tuition and the other costs of continuing their education will be out of reach. But don’t let the potential costs stop you. Most students receive some kind of financial aid, and a few students even get a “free ride,” with all their costs covered. You should learn about financial aid including grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans.
  • Always apply for all types of aid for which you might qualify, and meet all deadlines!
  • Creating and managing a budget is a way to keep track of your income and expenses and save for your goals.

Admission Requirements

  • Different schools have different admission requirements. Learn exactly what a school requires by visiting its website or checking in with its admissions office.
  • Many U.S. colleges require that students submit standardized test scores as part of their application packages. For most undergraduate programs, you’ll have to take either the SAT® or the ACT® Test.


  • An accredited school meets certain standards set by an independent agency. It helps ensure the training or education you get meets employer standards in a specific field. If you attend a school that isn’t accredited, you might not be able to get any financial aid.
  • Use our accreditation search page to check a particular school’s standards or to find an accredited school in a particular field or location.

A diploma mill is an unaccredited school (or a business claiming to be a school) that awards a degree without requiring classwork that meets college-level standards. Some will send a “diploma” without you doing any work at all if you pay a fee. Others assign classwork that is so easy that your resulting degree is worthless, compared to a degree from an accredited school, and it won’t help you get a good job. Learn more about diploma mills and how to avoid them.

Enrollment Contracts

  • Read any school enrollment contract carefully before you sign it. The contract explains what the school will give you for your money.
  • If a school representative promises you something (such as help finding a job) that’s not in the contract, ask the representative to write that promise into the contract and have it signed and dated. A promise is usually not enforceable unless it’s in writing.

Refund Policies

  • Find out the school’s tuition refund policy. If you enroll but never begin classes, you should get most of your money back. If you begin attending classes but leave before completing your course work, you might be able to get some of your money back.
  • Also find out the school’s return-of-aid policy. If you receive federal student aid (except for Federal Work-Study) and you withdraw from school, some of that money might have to be given back to the source by you or by your school.
  • Even if you don’t finish your course work, you’ll have to repay the loan funds you received, minus any student loan funds your school has returned to the U.S. Department of Education. Learn more about repaying federal student loans.

Past Complaints and Reputation

Useful Statistics

Some numbers can help you evaluate schools.

Statistic Description Where to Find the Information
Graduation Rate

The percentage of a school’s first-time, first-year undergraduate students who complete their program within 150% of the standard time for the program.

For example, for a four-year degree program, entering students who complete within six years are counted as graduates.

U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator website
Retention Rate

The percentage of a school’s first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at that school the next year.

For example, a student who studies full-time in the fall semester and continues studying in the program in the next fall semester is counted in this rate.

U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator website
Job Placement Rate

The percentage of students who are placed in jobs relevant to their courses of study within a set amount of time.

You may also want to contact a school’s career center and find out what kind of job placement services it offers students and graduates.

The college’s or career school’s website or career center
Loan Default Rate

The percentage of a school's federal student loan borrowers who enter repayment during a particular federal fiscal year, Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, and default within a certain timeframe.

You might not be able to get aid from some of our programs at a school that has a high default rate.

U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator website