Whether you’re pursuing a Bachelors degree or a Masters, choosing the right educational program for you is critically important to your future. It’s not unusual to spend upwards of a year or more simply researching different schools and programs around the country. Considering the price of tuition these days, a few months of research is well worth the time.

An excellent college experience prepares young adults, and adults looking to change careers, to adapt to fluctuations in job markets, growth sectors, and academic institutions. Knowing what to look for in a college depends, to a large extent, on your careers plans and financial situation. Everyone’s will be a little different. However, there are core elements to education that can be considered universal factors. What follows is a list of a few generally held considerations that many college-bound adults address prior to choosing a college:

Confirm that you will get hands-on experience in your field. Theory is great and can lead to its own career options, but before you commit to a certain college you should make sure that your department immerses its students in plenty of hands-on experience. This includes being trained to use new software and being exposed to a learning management system that will prepare you for the integration of technology in the classroom. Lectures should be coupled with labs and workshops that allow students to learn by doing. If you’re a Film major, for example, you should get to operate a camera and learn how to edit footage with video editing software. If you’re a Biology major you should dissect specimens in order to see their anatomy in real life. Reading books, writing papers, and listening to lectures is not enough to get a well-rounded education.

What to look for in a collegeLook for a school that has connections with internship programs. Interning is a wonderful way to get invaluable job experience and resume-building skills while pursing your degree. You should be mindful of whether or not your school facilitates its students acquiring summer internships. Often times these opportunities can pave the way for future jobs. At the very least, you can see whether you enjoy working in a certain field and whether or not you have an aptitude for the skills it demands. Many schools have academic connections with various companies and internship programs and will actively encourage students to apply. Some professors actually cull students from their classes for summer research projects and field expeditions. Make sure you school actively works to place its students in career-building activities and programs during the year and during breaks.

Make sure the professors you will be studying under are approachable and devoted to teaching. Many professors pursue research projects and publish articles and books during the school year. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. In fact, it usually signifies that you’ll be learning from a person who is ambitious, intelligent and at the top of his/her field. However, it’s not impossible that these other projects will distract your professor from fully devoting him/herself to lectures and interacting with students. Sometimes, professors unload a lot of the coursework onto TAs. Just do a little research to find out how much time you will actually get learning from the person who is trained to teach at a collegiate level. If, after doing a little investigative work, you discover that the main professor you would be studying under does not hold regular office hours and its not very friendly with students, you may want to look elsewhere. An approachable professor who is devoted to teaching may be one of the most important factors in where you go to school.

Few decisions you will make in life are more important than choosing the academic institution where you want to pursue a degree. Years later, you may look back on this decision with pride, knowing it paved the way for your future career. It’s not something to be taken lightly, or to leave up to chance. Doing some background research on what kinds of internship possibilities, hands-on experience and professor interactions you will receive should allow you to make an informed decision about whether a school is right for you or not. Especially when you consider the amount of money it costs for a college education these days, it’s worth a little extra due diligence.