### INTRODUCTION

Life is filled with choices. You decide what clothes to wear, what kind of music you will listen to and what you will eat for lunch. These choices are relatively easy and you probably don’t take a lot of time making them. But other decisions are more complicated and can have lifelong consequences.

Choosing a college or other education training program (such as the military) after high school is one of the most important decisions you will make in your lifetime. Additional education may help you get a better-paying job and work that you enjoy. In our rapidly changing world, you may also need additional education to keep your job.

Continuing your education will require a big investment of time, money, and effort so you want to be sure that you are choosing a program that's right for you. A weighted decision grid can help you analyze the costs and benefits of your options and make the right choice.

In this lesson you will learn how a weighted decision-making process can help you make major choices. You will use this process to identify the best place to get education or training after high school.

### PROCESS

STEP 1: State the Problem

The first step in making any decision is to be clear about the problem. In this case, you will want to identify the type of education or training you are seeking. The more specific you can be the better. For example, if you want to be a doctor, your problem is finding a school that provides a college degree that will help you get into medical school. If you want to be an auto mechanic, you want a trade school that offers a certificate in auto repair.

If you need help identifying the type of school and learning program that is right for you, visit these Web pages:

• College Answer: Types of Schools from Sallie Mae provides brief descriptions of different kinds of postsecondary schools.
• Prepare for My Future: Career Colleges and Technical Schools from the U.S. Department of Education offers advice about how to determine the kind of preparation you will need for different jobs.

State your problem at the top of one copy of the Weighted Decision Grid.

STEP 2: Define and Weight the Criteria

The next step in the decision process is listing the criteria you will use to help make your decision. Criteria are standards people consider in making a decision. Choosing a school can involve a lot of different criteria. Some of the most common ones are provided on this checklist.

A. Which of the criteria on the list are important to you? List them in the criteria column on the left-hand side of your decision grid.

B. Are there other criteria not on the list that are important to you? List them in the criteria column as well.

C. Some criteria will be more important to you than others. Establish the importance of each criterion by using a weight of 1 to 10, with 10 for the most important and 1 for the least important. Record these numbers in the weight column.

STEP 3: Identify the Alternatives

Once you have a general idea of the kind of preparation you will need and the type of school that can provide it, you are ready to look at specific schools and programs. These are your alternatives-- in other words, your options for solving your problem.

For now, identify at least two alternatives. If you need help finding specific schools that offer the program you want, or if you'd like some assistance narrowing down your choices, visit one or more of these Web sites:

• The Department of Education's College Navigator includes nearly 7,000 colleges and technical schools that can be searched by geographic region, academic program, and the availability of student financial aid. Your should click the box labeled “Title IV participating” at the bottom of the search page if you think you may apply for federal aid.
• Sallie Mae offers a customized search of 4,000 colleges and universities based on geographic location, major, and college test scores.
• Student Aid on the Web offers College Finder to help people sort through colleges and universities that match on a variety of factors including personality, academic goals, and geographic preferences.
• U.S. News and World Report: Best Colleges offers another college finder based on academic programs, geographic location, sports and campus activities, and cost. It also publishes an annual ranking of colleges.

On the same weighted decision grid you used in Step 1, write a different school name in the boxes marked alternatives. If you have more than two "alternatives," use duplicate copies of the grid.

STEP 4: Evaluate the Alternatives

The next step is evaluating how well each alternative meets your criteria according to a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 fulfilling the criterion completely and 1 not fulfilling it at all. You will have to do some research to rate your alternatives.

You can find most of the information you are seeking on the Internet. Go back to one of the Web links you used in Step 3. These sites will provide some of the information you need as well as links to school Web sites for additional information.

A. As you gather information, record your ratings on your decision grid for the appropriate school. Space is provided for you to note anything extra you want to remember.

B. Once you have completed all your ratings, stop and think for a minute. Are there any additional criteria that you now wish you would have included? Or is there another school that you would like to consider as an alternative? This is the time to make any additions and do the research.

C. When you are satisfied with the information on your grid, it is time to do the math. Multiply the criteria weight by the scores and put the results in the Weighted Score boxes.

D. Add up your weighted scores for each school and enter them in the Total Weighted Score at the bottom of the grid.

Now look at the data on your grid and consider:

• Which of your alternatives had the highest score? The lowest score?
• Were the scores close or far apart?
• Which criteria did your alternatives score well on?
• Were there criteria that your alternatives fared poorly on?

STEP 5: Make a Decision

The fifth step is to make a decision using all the information you have gathered. You will probably discover there is no perfect choice. As with most big decisions, you have to make some trade-offs—getting a little more of one thing in exchange for a little less of something else. Perhaps you wanted to go to school in another state, but realize it is less expensive to stay closer to home. In that case, a cost may outweigh a benefit—the excitement of a new place. For someone else, the quality of the program may be more important than money. In this case, a benefit may outweigh a cost.

### CONCLUSION

Selecting the right place for education and training after high school is as important as choosing a career. Each person has a different set of resources, values, and goals influencing his or her choices. A weighted decision-making grid is a tool that can help you keep track of the many different factors and find the best solution for you. The grid helps you weigh the costs and benefits of your alternatives.

1. In what other situations might you use a decision-making process similar to this one?

2. What is the advantage of this decision-making model over other models you have used?

3. Are there any disadvantages to this type process?

### ASSESSMENT ACTIVITY

On a separate sheet of paper, write a few paragraphs that tell what you have learned in using the decision-making grid. Be sure to include:

2. Your opportunity cost—the alternative that was ranked second.
3. The trade-offs you are making with this decision—in other words, what you had to give up (costs) to get something else (benefits).

### EXTENSION ACTIVITY

1. Research sources of financial assistance for your schooling. The U.S. Department of Education administers several major student aid programs in the form of grants, loans and work-study programs. About two-thirds of all student financial aid comes from these programs. Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4 FED AID (1-800-433-3243) for a free copy of The Student Guide. It's also available at Financial Aid Resource Publications . Besides information on federal programs, the guide will suggest other organizations that provide grants and scholarships.

2. While many private vocational and correspondence schools are reputable and teach the skills necessary to get a good job, others may not be as trustworthy. Their main objective may be to increase profits by increasing enrollment. They do this by promising more than they can deliver. If you are considering one of these schools:

a. Contact the school's licensing organization to be sure its license to operate is up-to-date. Licensing of postsecondary programs is handled by state government agencies. In many states, private vocational schools are licensed through the state Department of Education. The state transportation department, on the other hand, may license truck driver training schools. Your school should be willing to give you the name and phone number for this organization.

b. Contact the school's accrediting organization to be sure it is accredited. Accreditation is usually handled through a private education agency or association, one that evaluates the schools and determines whether they meet certain requirements. Accreditation can be an important clue to a school's ability to provide appropriate training and education — if the accrediting body is reputable.

c. Check with government consumer protection offices and the Better Business Bureau in the state where you live and in the state where the school is based. A record of complaints may indicate questionable practices, but a lack of complaints doesn't necessarily mean that the school is without problems. Unscrupulous businesses or business people often change names and locations to hide complaint histories.