Six questions to ask yourself 

You’re young, the world seems like a big place, and if you’ve just graduated, you have your whole life to make something of yourself. Ever thought about where you want to be in your life 20 years from now? Forty years from now? How are you going to get there?

For many, college is the obvious next step, and, while college is expensive, it’s also a great investment in your future. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, in 2015, bachelor's degree holders earned an average of $48,500 a year, while high school diploma holders earned an average of $23,900. That’s more than double the income for college versus high school grads.

Once you decide you’re going to college, you’re faced with choosing a school that fits your goals and interests — no easy task when you realize there are about 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States. And that doesn’t count community colleges. It can be overwhelming.

So, when you're looking at an institution you're interested in, start by asking yourself a few questions:

1. Can I afford to go here?

The Department of Education's College Affordability and Trasparency Center offers a free tool to help evaluate the cost of going to college. You can also look at individual institutions’ websites. The University of Northern Colorado, for example, provides a net price calculator to help you evaluate the personal cost of attending UNC. It will also let you know if you might qualify for certain grants and loans.

Ask yourself if you’ll need to work a job while attending school to meet your financial needs. About 43 percent of full-time undergrads work while attending school.

2. What are my personal needs?

Just because you’re going to college doesn’t mean you have to ignore your personal needs. Physical, social and psychological needs are completely valid reasons to choose one college over another. For example, how close do you want to be to your hometown, or how important is it that you can regularly see your friends, family or pets? Take all of that into account when you’re selecting a school.

3. Does this school have the services I’ll need?

A great many colleges do their best to accommodate a diverse student population. If you think you might require, for example, tutoring in math, do some research on your school of choice and see if it offers you services that are free, accessible and expertly staffed. This also goes for things like mental health services, disability services, culture resource centers and more.

4. Where will I live?

Take a residence hall tour, if possible, to see where you’d be living. Don’t forget to factor living costs (including housing and a meal plan) into your overall budget. Also look at the area the school is in, what it might cost to live off campus, and whether first-year students are required to live on campus.

5. What’s my end game?

Going to college without a plan can make your time more stressful than it needs to be. Do you have plans for the future? A career in mind? Graduate school? Volunteer work? Research? These are just a few of the many choices you'll have when you graduate.

6. Does this school offer what I want to study?

You can attend college for a variety of reasons. Maybe you like the culture of the school, or you’re interested in expanding your earning prospects. But you should also consider how much you like what you plan to study. There will come many days and nights where the work is overwhelming and the payoff seems miniscule. That’s exactly when you’ll have nothing left to fall back on but your passion for your studies. There are those who want to help people, those who want to create, those who want to understand and those who want to change things. As the great writer Annie Dillard recounts:

A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, ''Do you think I could be a writer?''

''Well,'' the writer said, ''I don't know. . . . Do you like sentences?''

The writer could see the student's amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am 20 years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, "I liked the smell of the paint."

Jason Keller

is a senior at UNC and is planning to graduate in December 2018. He is studying journalism and writing, with an emphasis in news and multimedia. He has a passion for marketing, technology and writing, and hopes to work in marketing after he graduates. When he's not at work, he likes to listen to music, read, study, write and spend time with friends.