A university education is a significant commitment of time, energy and money – there are so many universities to choose from that it can be bewildering to decide which is the best fit for you. Assuming that you have identified universities that offer the program of study you want to pursue, here are a few things to consider as you explore your options.

Teaching vs Research Institutions

Of course, all universities are teaching institutions – however, there is a different emphasis put on teaching at undergraduate universities than at institutions with undergraduate and graduate programs. Universities with graduate schools tend to be larger – hence they very often have larger classes that can have hundreds of students. Very often, these classes will be taught by graduate students rather than by professors. Research institutions also place a very high priority on the research output of their faculty members – this means that professors may have less time to spend with undergraduate students. However, on the upside, research universities can be very intellectually exciting places, with visiting scholars and students, professors who are current in their fields, and typically a wider range of course and program offerings

Public vs Private Institutions

The most obvious difference between these two types of university is that public institutions are typically able to offer lower tuitions to students because they receive public funding. Given the cost of a degree, this can be a major consideration. While there are very many excellent public universities, there is often an impression that private institutions are automatically “better” – but this isn’t always the case. It is true that private universities will generally be smaller and more focused in the sorts of programs that are offered, and that they will typically have much smaller class sizes.

Financial Support for Students

Because tuitions can be difficult for many students to cover with their own resources, it is very important to consider the sort of support that an institution offers to its students. Are scholarships, bursaries or other forms of financial support available? Does the school provide opportunities for students to work on campus, or offer work-study programs?

Online vs Brick and Mortar

An important decision to make is whether to pursue your education online or in a traditional program. There are clear advantages to online education, especially for older students who are returning to school while holding down a job or for students with complicated schedules. However on the downside, online education can be isolating without the cohort of classmates that you get to know in a traditional classroom. If the social and community aspect is important to you, this is something that you need to carefully weigh.


A university’s reputation is also important, especially if you are attending an online institution – be sure that it is a legitimate degree-granting institution, and that your credentials will be accepted by employers or graduate and professional programs. Research the reputation of graduates of the program. Don’t overlook the culture of the campus – does it seem supportive of students from different races, religions or cultural/social groups?

Choosing the right university is a very important decision with consequences that will affect your future prospects. Be sure to take the time to do your research!