How to Choose the Right College for You

Spring brings both joy and pain to the high school senior. On one hand, finishing up that K-12 career brings a sense of accomplishment and relief; on the other hand, this time also asks the typical 18-year-old to make one of the biggest decisions of their life.

As someone who went through the process of college admissions a little less than a year ago, I can confirm that the weight of my college decision rested heavily on my shoulders. Choosing your home for the next four years is not a decision to make lightly (especially since the price of college nowadays is pretty much equivalent to a small fortune). But the problem of which school is best for you can be broken up into smaller, more answerable questions.

Is College Still Worth the Money?

From 2004 to 2014, the average debt for graduating college seniors who took out loans rose at twice the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, the real value of workers' wages is 6.5 percent lower today than it was in 2006, and recent college graduates are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than they were prior to the recession. It's not unreasonable to look at the data and ask, "Is going to college a good investment for today's young workers?"

College ROI Report: Highest Student Loan Payments Made By Those Who Can Least Afford Them

College may be more expensive than ever before, but the cost of not going to college is pretty steep, as well. For the most part, college graduates earn more, have lower unemployment rates, and are less likely to live in poverty than their less-educated peers. But that doesn't mean that it's easy to pay student loans with a recent graduate's salary (or potential lack thereof, depending on the job market upon graduation). In fact, PayScale's College ROI Report shows that the highest college loans are likely to be held by the borrowers with the lowest income.

College ROI Report: These 5 Schools Offer the Highest Return on Investment

Money might not buy happiness, but lack of money can sure set you up for a world of misery. Just ask any of the 6.9 million Americans – as of July, 2015 – who hadn't made a payment on their federal students in 360 days. In fact, about 17 percent of all borrowers were severely delinquent in paying their student loans last year. Why? Well, for one thing, it's hard to stay on top of your loans if you can't get a job with a salary high enough to pay them.

For this reason, PayScale's College ROI Report is a valuable tool for entering students. While of course college choice needs to be based on a variety of factors like career goals, interests, and aptitude, thinking about life after graduation, professionally and financially, is also key. College isn't just vocational training, but if you're going to get into debt, you need to set yourself up to get a job that will allow you to pay off those loans.