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Online Degrees in New Jersey (NJ)

The Garden State. Abraham Browning coined New Jersey's famous nickname in 1874 when he referred to "our garden state" as a barrel of good things to eat that was open at both ends -- with Pennsylvania grabbing from one end and New York the other. He spoke specifically to the agricultural prowess, but it remains a perfect metaphor for the state's college system. New Jersey colleges are losing high school graduates to neighboring states, and a report from the state's Task Force on Higher Education has the numbers to prove it. This is a problem, because despite New Jersey's status as one of the most educated states in the country, its economy demands even more.

All of this actually spells good news for budding college students. New Jersey was already home to dozens of well regarded schools, but state efforts to make college more affordable and accessible (including the expansion of online learning) carry it to a whole new level. Read on to learn more about traditional and online education in New Jersey, including key colleges, degrees, metros, and financial aid programs.

  1. Spotlight: New Jersey College Trends
  2. Why Should I Earn a Degree in New Jersey?
  3. What Makes New Jersey Ideal for Online Education?
  4. Top 10 Degrees in New Jersey
  5. Top Cities and Metros for New Jersey College Students
  6. College Roadmap
  7. Scholarships and Financial Aid
  8. Discover Degree Opportunities

Spotlight: New Jersey College Trends

New Jersey is not your average state in many ways, and college attainment is no exception. The Lumina Foundation reports that in 2012, 45.8 percent of New Jersey's working-age adults held at least a two-year degree, several points beyond the 39.4 percent national average. All but seven counties report higher-than-average attainment, and six exceeded the 50 percent mark. Somerset County in particular was a rock star among rock stars: more than 60 percent of its workers held a degree of some type. Education attainment matters for all states, but especially states like New Jersey with knowledge-driven economies. From this perspective, you might expect New Jersey to be sitting pretty, metaphorically speaking, but according to both the Lumina Foundation and the New Jersey Higher Education Task Force, it is not nearly enough.

New Jersey needs more college graduates, and soon. Using data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, Lumina projects that by 2025, New Jersey will be more than 308,000 college graduates short of projected employer demand. The state needs more workers with degrees of all types, but especially at the baccalaureate level. The New Jersey Higher Education Task Force predicts that by 2018, no state save Massachusetts will require more bachelor's degree holders. Falling short of this mark could cost New Jersey hundreds and thousands of new jobs -- and the earnings and tax revenue they bring. In its 2010 Governor's Report, the Task Force urged the state to develop a plan for preparing more New Jersey students for college, and for keeping prospective students in the state.

Legislators listened. NJ.com reports that in October 2014, the New Jersey State Assembly passed a whopping seven bills designed to help now-and-future New Jersey college students, including one that would cap tuition rates for every student for nine straight semesters, so long as they remain in school. A second bill would cap the number of units New Jersey colleges could require to 60 units for an associate degree and 120 units for a bachelor's degree; another would create a "reverse transfer" agreement that would ensure students who transfer from four-year institutions to county colleges would have at least 30 credits applied toward an associate degree.

Another way New Jersey hopes to bolster its share of college grads is to make higher education more accessible, even to students who must work full-time while completing their educations. Special night and weekend programs help, as do accelerated and competency-based programs that allow students to earn credit for skills they have already developed elsewhere. Perhaps the biggest game changer, however, is online learning. Online degrees do not just make it easier and (often) more affordable for New Jersey workers -- they allow students living virtually anywhere to attend New Jersey colleges and universities. Schools have gotten the memo, and today colleges all across the state, big and small, offer online degree programs. The state government is on-trend, too, investing in programs that make opportunities for online education in New Jersey easier to navigate. More on this below.

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Why Should I Earn a Degree in New Jersey?

There are dozens of solid reasons to go to college in New Jersey, and the fact that it is home to a plethora of well regarded colleges (think: Princeton University and Rutgers) likely ranks near the top. The state's overall culture and vibe helps, too, aided in part by its 130 miles of coastline. These gorgeous beaches, lighthouses, and boardwalks draw millions of visitors each year, including college students. New Jersey is home to a multitude of museums, theaters, and other entertainment venues. It attracts foodies and adventure seekers of all stripes in its own right, but its proximity to major cities like New York City and Philadelphia doesn't hurt.

Perhaps some of the most compelling reasons to short-list New Jersey colleges and universities have more to do with the state's economy than anything else. New Jersey's historically well-educated workforce has been a magnet for employers, and where the jobs go, so goes the money. The trend has fueled major economic growth in a number of areas, like financial services and telecommunications, but it has also boosted wages. Forbes reported that New Jersey's median household income (an impressive $71,533) was the second highest in the country in 2012 -- just a shade behind Maryland. Higher earnings often lead to higher living standards, which explains why Forbes ranked New Jersey fourth among all states for overall quality of life that same year. While everyone stands to benefit from these trends, students who do their research and go into high-demand fields have an edge.

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What Makes New Jersey Ideal for Online Education?

Online education has moved squarely into the mainstream with colleges and universities all across the country getting in on the act. There are many good reasons why schools invest so much in Web-based learning: online degrees expand their reach considerably, reduce overhead, and make them more marketable to busy students. But there are just as many good reasons why students flock to distance learning in New Jersey (and virtually everywhere else). Here are some of them:

  • Convenience. Let's face it: New Jersey is a major population center, and its appeal often carries a steep price tag. For many of its residents, full-time jobs and high-traffic commutes are just part of the deal, especially when you consider how many of its residents also commute to major cities like New York City or Philadelphia. Online degrees just plain make sense for students who want to climb the corporate ladder (and salary bracket) faster without reducing their income.
  • Affordability. As with traditional degrees, the costs associated with online degrees in New Jersey vary wildly by school and program. Unlike campus-based programs, however, online programs allow students to select schools that fit their goals and budgets without regards for geography. When you factor in transportation savings and additional earnings (for students who continue to work), the advantage only increases.
  • Opportunity. As noted, distance learning in New Jersey allows students to enroll in the programs that interest them most -- even if they live hundreds or thousands of miles away. This expands their options considerably.
  • Accessibility. We touched upon the idea that online learning gives students access to higher education without regard for geography or busy lifestyles, but the state has invested in additional tools that make distance learning in New Jersey even more accessible. These include the NJ Virtual University program, a virtual guide to distance learning in New Jersey, and the Virtual Community College Consortium, which aggregates online course and degree options from two-year colleges all across the state.
  • Peace of mind. It is a myth that online education is easier than traditional education: the degree of independent learning, organization, and stick-to-itiveness demanded of online students exceeds that of most classroom-based students. But the advantages of online learning -- flexibility, affordability, and opportunity -- can make going back to school manageable, even when life is busy. Knowing you can advance your education without sacrificing work or family time can be life (and sanity) changing.

Prospective students can learn more about the advantages of distance learning in New Jersey -- and schools that offer it -- by visiting the State of New Jersey's College Bound portal, the National Center for Education Statistics' College Navigator, or the New Jersey Virtual University blog online. To learn about specific programs, we recommend contacting schools directly to request more information.

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Top 10 Degrees in New Jersey

New Jersey's economy is large and varied, but some fields are growing faster than others. That means some degrees are in higher demand, too. The following are ten of them, in no particular order, along with key schools that offer them. Note that this list was compiled using long-term workforce projections from both the U.S. Department of Labor and the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Unless otherwise specified, rankings information is drawn from U.S. News & World Report's 2015 college rankings. Prospective students can contact individual schools to learn more.

Nursing

Nurses are in demand everywhere, but especially in New Jersey, where the DOL projects that registered nurses will enjoy more new job openings between 2012 and 2022 than any other occupation in the state requiring a two-year degree or higher. Nursing assistants, licensed vocational nurses, and nursing assistants also rank in the top five for their respective categories. Even demand for nursing instructors is expected to grow by more than 23 percent during that period, though the profession's overall pool is smaller than most. Thankfully New Jersey nursing schools are competitive.

Top Nursing Schools in New Jersey

  • Rutgers University in Newark. Rutgers University in Newark ranked among U.S. News & World Report's top 100 nursing schools in 2015. The program is impressive in both quality and scope, offering a multitude of degree options. Among them: A four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a 14-month accelerated second-degree BSN, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees in several specialties, post-MSN certificates for specialization, a post-BSN Doctor of Nurse Practitioner (DNP) program in several specialties, and a post-MSN DNP program. Note that Rutgers also offers a handful of online nursing degrees and certificates, including online RN to BSN and Post-Master's DNP programs.
  • Seton Hall University. Seton Hall's nursing program also ranked among some of the best in the country in 2015. The school offers several degrees and certificates, including traditional and accelerated BSN degrees, RN to BSN and MSN bridge programs, DNPs, PhDs, and several graduate and post-graduate certificates. Students can complete several programs online, like the RN to BSN, DNP, and MSN degrees.
  • College of New Jersey. The College of New Jersey nursing school is yet another high-ranked, decidedly diverse program, though it is primary campus-based. Degree options include BSN, RN to BSN, MSN, and RN to MSN degrees. CNJ also offers several MSN certificates, allowing MSN holders to further specialize their training.

Teaching

New Jersey's plan to boost college readiness among K-12 students has helped spurred demand for teachers of all types. For instance, the DOL projects that preschool, elementary, and secondary teachers; education administrators; and teaching assistants will rank in the top five occupations statewide in their respective education-requirement groups for overall new job production between 2012 and 2022. Middle school teachers rank no. 6 among jobs requiring a four-year degree. Even guidance counselors are in demand. There are several top teaching schools in New Jersey, including the two highest ranked undergraduate programs in the nation.

Top Teaching Schools in New Jersey

  • Princeton University. Princeton University is one of the best known and regarded colleges not just in New Jersey, but in the country, and it has the rankings to prove it. It also happens to be home to U.S. News' no. 1 nationally ranked undergraduate teaching program. Princeton's teachers prep program is particularly popular. According to its official website, this program prepares students to earn their New Jersey State teaching license, which is transferable to most states. It is open to all undergraduate and graduate students and alumni, and at any time -- even if they already have a degree in another field.
  • College of New Jersey. The College of New Jersey is U.S. News' no. 2 ranked undergraduate teaching school. It may follow Princeton in that respect, but it eclipses it in terms of overall program options. CNJ offers undergraduate degrees in early childhood education, elementary education, middle school, secondary education, special education, urban education, and education for the deaf and hard of hearing. It also offers degrees in art education, music education, and exercise science teaching through various other departments. Graduate-level degrees are available in nearly as many disciplines. Among them: school counseling, elementary education, early childhood education, special education, secondary education, and education for the deaf and hard of hearing. Students can also earn Master of Education (M.Ed.) degrees in several disciplines, like educational leadership.
  • Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Rutgers in New Brunswick is home to U.S. News' no. 39 ranked graduate education program and the no. 55 online graduate degree program, nationally speaking. Campus-based programs range from minors to PhDs, and include a unique Five Year Teacher Education Program, which is a joint bachelor's/master's/teacher certification program. Online programs include master's degrees in a number of areas, plus several non-degree certifications in areas like education technology and English as a second language (ESL).

Computer Science and IT

The computer science and information technology industries are booming in New Jersey. Among the fastest-growing occupations (in terms of total new openings projected between 2012 and 2022, per the DOL): Web developers, computer network support specialists, software developers, computer systems analysts, and computer support specialists. Entry-level requirements vary tremendously with title and employer: Web developers can often scrape by with a two-year degree, but systems analysts and software developers usually need a bachelor's degree or higher. Thankfully, there are several respectable computer science and IT programs in New Jersey.

Top Computer Science and IT Schools in New Jersey

  • Princeton University. Princeton University is home not just to one of the highest-ranked computer science programs in the country, but the no. 5 ranked program in the world (per U.S. News, 2015). It also earns high marks in several specialties, such as programming (no. 5 nationally), computer science theory (no. 4), and computer systems (no. 12). Students can earn bachelor's, master's, and PhD degrees in computer science. Princeton also offers certificates in areas like applications and computing. Bonus: Princeton's computer science students can engage in cutting-edge research.
  • Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Rutgers in New Brunswick is yet another nationally and globally ranked computer science school offering impressive research facilities, especially in the fields of computer security, computer systems, and artificial intelligence. Program options include minors, bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and PhDs in computer science. Rutgers also hosts a unique five-year honors program leading to a joint BS/MS degree.
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology. It is likely no surprise that a major "Institute of Technology" would also host one of the best-ranked computer science programs in the country, but unlike Princeton and Rutgers, NJIT also ranks among the best online graduate-level computer science programs. Campus-based students can pursue bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degrees. Online options include Master of Science degrees in both computer science and information systems, plus online graduate certificates in several specialties (think: Web systems, tech management, and more).

Diagnostic Medical Sonography

Sonography is a dynamic field. As technology advances, ultrasound is quickly replacing more costly (and, at times, invasive) diagnostic imaging tools. This, combined with an aging elderly population requiring more medical care and health care legislative shifts that expand patient access to these tools, is supporting demand for diagnostic medical sonographers, commonly called ultrasound technicians, both in and out of New Jersey. In fact, the DOL projects that ultrasound technicians will rank no. 6 in terms of total new jobs produced between 2012 and 2022 among all professions statewide requiring an associate degree or higher. Overall share of growth for that period is an impressive 39 percent. Associate degree usually suffice for entry-level techs, but advanced programs are increasingly prevalent. New Jersey offers several accredited ultrasound technician schools, including at least one with a bachelor's-level program.

Top Ultrasound Technician Schools in New Jersey

  • Rutgers School of Health and Related Professions in Scotch Plains. Rutgers SHRP Scotch Plains offers several degree and certificate options in diagnostic medical sonography and related fields, including bachelor's degrees in medical imaging. The certificate program is a full-time, 15-month program. Bachelor's degrees vary in length depending on what degree -- if any -- applicants already hold. Rutgers' diagnostic medical sonography programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs
  • Rowan College. Rowan College offers a more traditional associate degree in diagnostic medical sonography. The program requires 22 months of full-time study, including four semesters and three summer sessions. Students must also complete nearly 1,200 hours of clinical instruction. Rowan's DMS program is accredited by the CAAHEP.
  • Bergen Community College. Bergen Community College hosts yet another CAAHEP-accredited diagnostic medical sonography program. Students must complete training in three specialties -- abdominal,, obstetric, and cardiac sonography -- before earning their associate degree.

Dental Hygiene

Dental hygienists play a key role in the field of dental health, cleaning and inspecting teeth and advising patients in good oral hygiene. They are in relatively high demand the nation over, and the DOL projects that dental hygiene will produce the third-highest number of new occupations among all New Jersey occupations that require a two-year degree between 2012 and 2022. Those who want to get a taste for dentistry without committing to a two-year program may want to consider dental assistant certificates: dental assistants also rank among the top 10 highest-overall-growth careers in New Jersey requiring some college education. Dentists rank high, too, though students must complete years of postgraduate study to enter the field. New Jersey offers several accredited dental hygiene and assisting schools.

Top Dental Hygiene Schools in New Jersey

  • Rutgers School of Health and Related Professions in Scotch Plains. Rutgers SHRP in Scotch Plains offers associate degrees and certificate programs in dental hygiene, both of which have been accredited by the American Dental Hygienists' Association. The associate-level program requires two years of full-time study, while the certificate program can be completed in as little as 10 months. Rutgers SHRP also offers a 10-month certificate in dental assisting.
  • Eastern International College. EIC in Jersey City offers allied health degree programs in a number of different fields, many of which are in demand in New Jersey. Its two-year associate degree program in dental hygiene has also been accredited by the ADHA.
  • Middlesex County College. Middlesex County College is an excellent example of a two-year college offering vocational training in New Jersey. Its associate-level dental hygiene degree program prepares students for the rigors of the field (and to pass the national licensing exam) and is ADHA-accredited.

Medical and Clinical Lab Technology

Medical and clinical lab technology is a promising, but often overlooked field. Medical laboratory technicians and technologists, often called medical laboratory scientists, collect samples and perform tests on body fluids, tissue, and other substances. While technicians can get by with an associate degree, the BLS reports that technologists need to earn a bachelor's. This gives them more professional latitude in performing work independently. The DOL projects that medical and clinical laboratory technicians will enjoy the eighth-highest number of total new jobs among two-year degree holders in New Jersey between 2012 and 2022. New Jersey offers several medical and clinical laboratory technology schools. Each of those listed below has been accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences.

Top Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technology Schools in New Jersey

  • Camden Community College. Camden Community College offers an associate degree in medical laboratory technology, preparing students for entry-level work as medical and clinical laboratory technicians, or to advance to bachelor's-level programs.
  • Middlesex Community College. Middlesex Community College offers certificates and degrees in a number of in-demand vocational careers, including an associate degree in medical laboratory technology. Students will hone the clinical testing skills necessary to work for hospital laboratories, research companies, private labs, and physicians' offices.
  • Rutgers School of Health Related Professions in Scotch Plains. Rutgers SHRP says its medical laboratory science program is the largest and only university-based medical science program in New Jersey. Students can earn the bachelor's degrees necessary to become medical and clinical laboratory technologists. Note that some, but not all, courses can be completed online.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists help patients who have been sick or injured recover from physical ailments that restrict their ability to move and generally live normally. Physical therapists are primary clinicians that complete years of graduate-level studies. Physical therapy assistants and aides support PTs, entering the field with associate degrees (or less). The DOL projects that demand for physical therapists in New Jersey will grow by 28 percent between 2012 and 2022. Demand for physical therapy assistants and aides is projected to grow by 35 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Several schools in New Jersey offer physical therapy programs for both clinical and support specialists.

Top Physical Therapy Schools in New Jersey

  • Rutgers School of Health and Related Professions. Rutgers University is home to U.S. News & World Report's no. 86 nationally ranked physical therapy program, and its School of Health and Related Profession's Doctor of Physical Therapy program is one of the few postgraduate-level programs in New Jersey. The three-year, full-time program prepares students for the national physical therapy licensure examination and is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.
  • Seton Hall University. Senon Hall University offers master's and doctoral degrees in physical therapy, including a unique dual BS + Doctor of Physical Therapy program requiring seven years of full-time study. Like Rutgers, Seton Hall's physical therapy program ranked among U.S. News & World Report's top 100 graduate-level physical therapy programs in the nation in 2015.
  • Essex County College. Future physical therapy professionals who would prefer to enter the field without spending years in the classroom will be glad to know there are several CAPTE-accredited physical therapy assistant programs in New Jersey, including one at Essex County College. This two-year associate degree program prepares students for licensure in or out of New Jersey.

Business Management and Marketing

All industries benefit from business-savvy management and marketing professionals, which probably explains why several business-related careers rank among some of the fastest growing occupations in the state of New Jersey (per DOL projections for the period between 2012 and 2022). Management analysts, operations research analysts, market research analysts and specialists, general and operations managers, and financial managers all fall into this category. New Jersey colleges and universities offer a plethora of business degree options, including several that are nationally ranked.

Top Business Schools in New Jersey

  • Rutgers University in New Brunswick. U.S. News & World Report ranked Rutgers in New Brunswick's graduate-level business school no. 60 nationally in 2015, and its online graduate business programs placed even higher -- no. 34. Students can earn bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in business, including executive and part-time MBAs. Popular concentrations include accounting, business analytics, finance, management, and marketing.
  • Rutgers University in Newark. Like its cousin in New Brunswick, Rutgers in Newark has earned national rankings for its business and online graduate-level business programs. Bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs (including MBAs) benefit from the campus's proximity to Manhattan and the corporate partnerships it affords the school. Some degrees can be completed 100 percent online, including a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and the MBA.
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology. NJIT's school of business is nationally ranked both in graduate studies and online graduate business studies. While the school's broader emphasis on technology does not detract at all from its more traditional business programs, it offers a boost for its many tech-centric business degrees (think information systems and technology management). Students can earn bachelor's degrees and MBAs in a number of business specialties. NJIT also offers many 100 percent online business degrees, including an online MBA, online master's degrees in business and information systems and management, and online certificates in a plethora of business disciplines.

Accounting

Accountants and auditors are not just in-demand in New Jersey -- they are the no. 1 DOL-projected fastest growing occupation (in terms of total number of new positions) for four-year degree holders in the state between 2012 and 2022. Financial managers also crack the top 10. Several New Jersey colleges offer the types of degrees future professionals need to enter the field. Some even offer Web-based programs.

Top Accounting Schools in New Jersey

  • Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Rutgers Business School's bachelor's degree in accounting prepares students to work in a variety of settings, from CPA firms to major, private corporations. The school also offers master's degrees in financial accounting, government accounting, taxation, and more. The Master of Accountancy in Government Accounting degree program is available in a 100 percent online format.
  • Seton Hall University. Seton Hall's Department of Accounting and Taxation and its Stillman School of Business offer students a variety of options, including BS and BAs in Accounting, master's degrees in Accounting and Professional Accounting, an MS in Public Accounting (MSPA), and more. Some programs can be completed online. Contact SHU directly for the latest program options.
  • College of New Jersey. U.S. News & World Report named College of New Jersey the no. 1 public school in the country in 2015, a datapoint that bodes well for its accounting students. TCNJ says its accounting program prepares students to work in several areas of the field, including public accounting. Students can also minor in financial services and corporate accounting, information systems, or a dual area like accounting and communications.

Counseling

Counselors come in several different specialties, but according to DOL projections for the 2012 to 2022 period, mental health counselors, educational guidance counselors, and genetics counselors are some the fastest-growing professions (in terms of new openings) in New Jersey. Most counselor's need at least a master's degree to enter the field, and several disciplines require additional licensure. Thankfully New Jersey colleges are primed to deliver.

Top Counseling Schools in New Jersey

  • Montclair State University. Montclair State University only offers master's-level counseling degrees, but they are broad in scope. For example, students who pursue an M.A. in Counseling can choose to concentrate in a diversity of specialties, like addictions counseling, school counseling, community counseling, and more. Students enrolled in the M.A. in Educational Psychology can specialize in child and adolescent clinical psychology or clinical psychology for Spanish-English bilinguals. Montclair also offers an M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, which happens to be one of the fastest growing DOL-projected occupations in New Jersey between 2012 and 2022, though it is still a much smaller field in terms of total workers than many other disciplines.
  • Fairleigh Dickinson University. Fairleigh Dickinson University has one of the most robust counseling programs in New Jersey, offering master's, doctoral, and even post-doctoral master's degrees in areas such as clinical psychology, school psychology, counseling, and industrial/organizational psychology. Note that Farleigh is also one of the few programs in the state to offer master's degrees in areas like forensic psychology and general-theoretical psychology.
  • Seton Hall University. Seton Hall offers students no shortage of counseling-related degrees, and at both the graduate and postgraduate levels. Students can earn master's degrees in counseling and psychological studies or marriage and family therapy, or Ed.S. degrees in marriage and family therapy or school and community psychology. PhD programs include counseling psychology and marriage and family therapy, and the school's marriage and family professional diploma is decidedly unique.

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Top Cities and Metros for New Jersey College Students

Colleges tend to gravitate toward major population centers. Jobs do, too, so even students earning online degrees in New Jersey -- students who could live virtually anywhere and still go to college -- often settle near big cities. The following is an outline of New Jersey's largest metros, what it's like to live and work in them, and some of their top colleges. All population and wage data is drawn from 2013 U.S. Census and May 2013 BLS estimates.

Edison-New Brunswick

The Edison-New Brunswick metropolitan area is the largest in New Jersey, spanning major cities like the East Brunswick, Middletown, Lakewood, and Franklin Townships. An estimated 2,379,000 lived there in 2013, though it is also part the much larger New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island metropolitan statistical area. The Edison-New Brunswick metro's primary industries are, according to Forbes, technology, education, health care, and bio-science. Cost of living tends to be higher than the national average, but so are earnings: the BLS estimates that the metro's 981,000 workers earned a mean annual wage of $52,790 in May 2013. Residents tend to be well educated. In fact, Forbes ranked the area no. 19 among all metros nationally for education in 2013, an honor it owes at least in part to its quality colleges and universities.

The Edison-New Brunswick area has several claims to fame, including its status as one of the richest communities in the country (especially within Somerset County). It is also situated within easy driving distance of major tourist centers like Philadelphia, New York City, and Atlantic City. Major sites of interest include Roosevelt Park, the World War II era army post of Camp Kilmer, and the Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower and Museum. Ocean county is also home to Six Flags Great Adventure, the largest Six Flags amusement park in the nation.

Major Colleges in Edison-New Brunswick

  • Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Rutgers State University of New Jersey system is arguably one of the best public college systems in the nation, and its New Brunswick campus is a biggie, serving 34,000 students each year. U.S. News & World Report ranked Rutgers-New Brunswick no. 70 nationally, and no. 26 among all public universities in 2015. It also earned top 50 rankings in several academic disciplines, including computer science, English, library and information studies, math, pharmacy, and women's history. Its online graduate business and education degrees also ranked well.
    • Most popular majors, Fall 2013: Psychology, Speech Communication, Biology, Economics, and Political Science.
  • Monmouth University. Monmouth University is a private university in West Long Branch. It was originally a junior college, but expanded considerably in the 1950s. Today, Monmouth students -- and there are about 5,000 of them -- can earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in dozens of academic disciplines. U.S. News & World Report ranked MU no.37 in the northern region in 2015, and no. 13 nationally for veterans.
    • Most popular majors, Fall 2013: Business, Education, Communications and Journalism, Health Professions, and Psychology.
  • Georgian Court University. Georgian Court is a comparatively small, private Roman Catholic university serving less than 2,000 students in the Lakewood Township. It is an all women's school open to all faiths. While students can earn bachelor's and master's degrees in a diversity of subjects, the GCU's business and education programs are particularly well known.
    • Most popular majors, Fall 2013: Psychology, Education, English Language and Literature, Health Professions, and Business Management and Marketing.
  • More Edison-New Brunswick colleges to consider: Middlesex County College, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Brookdale Community College (offering bachelor's degrees via a partnership with Rutgers), Ocean County College, Somerset Christian College, Alma White College, and Raritan Valley Community College.

Newark-Union

The Newark-Union metropolitan area is a major economic center with an estimated population of about 2,168,500 in 2013. It is centered in Newark. Other major cities include Raritan Township, Morristown, Parsippany-Troy Hills Township, Vernon Township, and Elizabeth. Like the Edison-New Brunswick metro, the Newark area is part of the New York City-Northern New Jersey-Long Island metropolitan statistical area, and it is not uncommon for residents to commute to NYC for school or work. Forbes named the Newark area the no. 29 metro nationally for business and jobs in 2013. Cost of living and earnings both tend to be high: the BLS estimated that the metro's estimated 957,630 workers earned a mean annual wage of $55,150 in 2013, well above the national average. Insurance, banking, and education are major industries here.

The Newark area's proximity to New York City may be a major perk for residents and tourists alike, but the metro is a major cultural center in its own right. Newark proper is divided into five distinct wards ranging from bustling urban neighborhoods to quiet suburban retreats. Shopping, restaurants, and entertainment options runneth over, and institutions like the Newark Museum, the Paul Robeson Galleries, and the Cathedral of Sacred Heart are just a few of the area's must-see highlights. Those looking for a quieter getaway can tour regional vineyards and U-pick apple and strawberry farms. Ski resorts are a major draw in the winter, particularly in Sussex County,

Major Colleges in Newark

  • Drew University. Drew University in Madison is a private, highly selective university serving about 2,500 students each year. Its beautiful, 186-acre wooded campus -- earning Drew its nickname, "University in the Forest" -- is a major selling point, as is its reputation as one of the top 100 national liberal arts colleges in the nation (according to U.S. News & World Report in 2015).
    • Most popular majors, Fall 2013: Psychology, English Language and Literature, Economics, Political Science, and Drama.
  • Seton Hall University. Seton Hall in South Orange is a fairly large institution as private schools go; nearly 6,000 students pursuing more than 60 majors attended it in 2013. U.S. News & World Report considered Seton Hall one of the best colleges in the nation in 2015. Specific programs that earned top-100 rankings that year included occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician assistance, and law.
    • Most popular majors, Fall 2013: Registered Nursing, Biology, International Relations, Finance, and Humanities.
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology. NJIT is a public university in Newark serving more than 7,000 students each year. Though its name suggests it is a major technology powerhouse (and it is), it offers high-ranked programs across a broad range of disciplines, like public health and business. It offers several online programs, including one of U.S. News' top ranked online graduate computer and information technology programs (for 2015).
    • Most popular majors, Fall 2013: Engineering, Computer and Information Sciences, Engineering, Architecture, and Business.
  • More Newark-area colleges to consider: Montclair State University, Rutgers-Newark, Essex County College, Berkeley College, Bloomfield College, Caldwell College, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Kean University, and College of Saint Elizabeth.

Camden

The Camden metropolitan area spans the counties of Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester, and includes cities like Camden, Evesham Township, and Washington Township. While an estimated 1,260,400 lived in the Camden area in 2013, the metro is just one part of the much larger Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pa.-N.J.-Del.-Md. metropolitan statistical area, which had more than 6 million residents total that same year. Cost of living in the Camden area may exceed the national average, but according to Forbes, it is still much lower than in the Edison-New Brunswick and Newark-Union metros. The BLS estimates that the Camden metro's roughly 501,000 workers earned a mean annual wage of $48,290 in 2013, more than the national average. Forbes considers health care and education the area's primary industries, but its high-tech market is growing. Camden proper is a also a major port on the Delaware River that receives hundreds of domestic and international ships each year.

The Camden metro is home to several major attractions, many of which are situated on or near the Camden waterfront. History buffs can tour the USS New Jersey, the Walt Whitman House, and historical landmarks like the Marcouse Building and the Newtown Friends Meeting House. The Adventure Aquarium, the Camden Children's Garden, and the Rutgers-Camden Center for The Arts are exceedingly popular among tourists and residents alike. Like many New Jersey metros, the Camden area is a budding wine region complete with sprawling vineyards.

Major Colleges in Camden

  • Rowan University. Rowan University is a large, public school in Glassboro serving nearly 11,000 students each year. It also happens to be the no. 19 university in the northern region, and the no. 3 public school in the country (according U.S. News & World Report's 2015 rankings). Students can earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in a number of disciplines, and its engineering programs are considered some of the best in the country.
    • Most popular majors, Fall 2013: Education; Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services; Psychology; Communication, Journalism, and Related Programs; and Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting, and Related Protective Services.
  • Rutgers University in Camden. Many of the Rutgers State University of New Jersey campuses earn high marks from various rankings publications, and the Camden campus -- U.S. News & World Report's no. 6 public school nationally in 2015 -- is no exception. Rutgers-Camden serves nearly 5,000 students a year, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in a diversity of disciplines, but its law and physical therapy programs are particularly well regarded.
    • Most popular majors, Fall 2013: Business Administration and Management, General; Psychology, General; Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse; Biology/Biological Sciences, General; and Criminal Justice/Safety Studies.
  • Camden County College. Camden County College is a two-year public community college serving about 15,000 students each year through its Blackwood, Cherry Hill, and Camden campuses. While many CCC students enroll in career-focused and vocational programs, others use the school as a cost-saving stepping stone to four-year universities. Programs range from liberal arts to highly technical, including a unique Laser Engineering program.
  • More Camden-area colleges to consider: Rowan College at Gloucester County, Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, and Burlington County College.

Trenton-Ewing

The Trenton-Ewing metropolitan area spans all of Mercer County and was home to an estimated 370,100 people in 2013. This may make the region much smaller than the Newark-Union, Edison-New Brunswick, and Camden-area metros, but its high concentration of notoriously stellar colleges and universities (think: Princeton) set it apart, both culturally and economically. In 2013, Forbes ranked the Trenton area no. 23 among all metros nationally for education, and no. 50 for overall job growth. Major industries include government, education, and technology. Cost of living tends to be a bit above the national average, but wages are significantly higher: the BLS estimates that the metro's nearly 216,000 workers earned a mean annual wage of $58,720 in 2013. The area is distinctly progressive in a number of areas, including wages, a trend that earned it the no. 5 spot on Forbes' Best Paying Cities for Women in 2013.

The Trenton area is a hotbed of American history extending back to some of the most significant battles of the American Revolutionary War. Several of its major buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the New Jersey State Museum, Washington Crossing State Park, and the Princeton Historical District and Battlefield. The area is a major higher education center and home to Princeton University, one of the undisputed best and oldest universities in the nation, a trend that drives both the region's sophisticated culture and its college-friendly vibe.

Major Colleges in Trenton

  • Princeton University. The Ivy League Princeton University is considered to be the fourth oldest college in the country and one of the most revered: U.S. News & World Report named it the no. 1 college in the nation in 2015, and no. 13 in the world. Princeton has produced droves of famous alumni, from U.S. Presidents (and First Lady Michelle Obama) and Nobel Laureates to entertainers. Tradition is important to Princeton, defining both its culture and its legacy. Legends and secret organizations have survived centuries (including the popular legend that students who pass through the Fitz Randolph Gate during their tenure are doomed to never graduate). Princeton offers dozens of top-ranked programs.
    • Most popular majors, Fall 2013: Economics, General; Political Science and Government, General; Molecular Biology; Psychology, General; and Public Policy Analysis.
  • College of New Jersey. The College of New Jersey in Morrison is a public, but highly-selective university serving nearly 6,700 students. According to U.S. News & World Report, it was also the no. 1 public university in the country in 2015, and no. 3 among all colleges in the northern region. Students can earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in more than 50 major disciplines, but its teaching program (no. 2 in the nation per U.S. News) is especially famous.
    • Most popular majors, Fall 2013: Elementary Education and Teaching; Business Administration and Management, General; Biology/Biological Sciences, General; Engineering, General; and Psychology, General.
  • Rider University. Rider University is another nationally-ranked Trenton-area college, this time in Lawrenceville. A private institution, Rider serves nearly 5,400 students each year. While it offers a diversity of majors, the school is comprised of a handful of distinct academic units: the College of Business Administration; the College of Liberal Arts, Education and Sciences; the College of Continuing Studies; and the Westminster College of the Arts.
    • Most popular majors, Fall 2013: Accounting; Psychology, General; Elementary Education and Teaching; Business Administration and Management, General; and Rhetoric and Composition.
  • More Trenton-area colleges to consider: Thomas Edison State University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Mercer County Community College.

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College Roadmap

Rankings. Directories. Student blogs. Guidebooks. When it comes to information about New Jersey colleges and universities, the Internet is busting at its virtual seams. These resources are incredibly valuable for anyone who wants to go to school, but if you really want to know what it's like to attend a particular college, you have to ditch the information highway for the literal one and actually visit it. Fortunately, New Jersey is a compact state with a top-notch transportation system, which makes a good old-fashioned college tour road trip a cinch. Not sure where to start? Here are a couple itineraries:

Begin in New York City

New York is a treasure trove of culture and adventure, so why not go ahead and cross it off your bucket list? When you can tear yourself away, head across the bay to Newark, otherwise known as your new basecamp. Plan to spend at least a couple of days here -- the area is booming with must-dos and, more importantly, colleges.

Schools to visit: Drew University, Seton Hall University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Montclair State University, Rutgers-Newark, Essex County College, Berkeley College, Bloomfield College, Caldwell College, Kean University, College of Saint Elizabeth, and Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Option 1 - Go coastal

Head south along Interstate 95, which eventually parallels the coast. I-95 cuts through the Edison-New Brunswick metro (see above). Set your course according to which schools you want to visit. You could continue down to Atlantic City by following the Garden State Parkway (which segues into Bass River State Forest) or Highway 9 (which is closer to the coast). When you have had your fill of the coast, you could head toward Philadelphia and Camden, covered below.

Schools to visit: Monmouth, Rutgers-New Brunswick, Middlesex County College, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Brookdale Community College (offering bachelor's degrees via a partnership with Rutgers), Ocean County College, Somerset Christian College, Alma White College, and Raritan Valley Community College.

Option 2 - Head inland

Follow Interstate 95 through New Brunswick and all the way to Trenton rather than cutting coastal. Consider spending a night or two in Trenton, the center of the Trenton-Ewing metro and its many colleges and universities.

Schools to visit: Princeton University, The College of New Jersey, Rider University, Thomas Edison State University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Mercer County Community College.

Home stretch: The Camden-Philadelphia metro

Trenton visitors can follow Interstate 95 all the way to Philadelphia or Interstate 295, eventually cutting up to Camden. Those coming from the coast can take the Atlantic City Expressway through Gloucester Township to Camden. Philadelphia proper is a must-see for history buffs and wayward travelers of all stripes, but those who want to visit schools in the New Jersey side of the Delaware River may want to eventually settle in Camden to minimize traffic-related stress.

Schools to visit: Rowan University, Rutgers University-Camden, Camden County College, and Burlington County College.

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Scholarships and Financial Aid

Let's face it: College can be expensive. Fortunately, there are a number of financial aid programs designed to help students manage their education costs. These include grants, scholarships, loans, tuition waiver or reimbursement programs, and work-study programs.

  • Grants. Grants are free funds that need not be repaid, but are usually tied to financial need. Both the federal government and the State of New Jersey offer grants.
  • Scholarships. Like grants, scholarships are free funds that do not need to be repaid (so long as students meet ongoing requirements). Unlike grants, not all scholarships are tied to financial need. Students can win scholarships for demonstrating academic excellence, special talent in the arts or athletics, or even falling into certain cultural or religious groups. Governments, institutions, and third-party organizations can award scholarships.
  • Loans. Student loans do eventually need to be repaid, but often carry low interest rates or other incentive programs. In some cases, like subsidized federal Stafford Loans, the government or another institution will pay all interest accrued while attending school. Other loan programs are reserved for parents and graduate students.
  • Tuition waivers and reimbursement programs. Tuition waivers and reimbursement programs can be offered by the government, schools, or third-party sources, including employers. Whatever organization offers the program determines how it is managed. For instance, many employers will reimburse workers' tuition when they do well in courses that are applicable to their jobs.
  • Work-study programs. Work-study programs are typically managed by the state or federal government. Students receive aid in exchange for performing jobs on-campus. The number of hours students can work and the amount of aid they receive are capped.

The first step toward applying for most types of financial aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA is managed by the U.S. Department of Education, but is often required when applying for non-Federal sources of aid, too.

New Jersey Financial Aid Programs

New Jersey's Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) manages a number of state financial aid programs specifically for New Jersey college students. Among them:

  • New Jersey Tuition Aid Grant. The HESAA calls New Jersey's TAG program one of the most generous need-based financial aid programs in the nation. It is open to New Jersey residents with demonstrated financial need, and both full-time and part-time students can apply (depending on the program). According to the HESAA, one-third of all undergraduate students attending New Jersey colleges receive support through TAG.
  • NJ STARS. The NJ STARS program is reserved for high-achieving students attending community and county colleges in New Jersey. Students must be New Jersey residents, and must have ranked in the top 15 percent of their class at the end of their junior or senior years of high school.
  • NJ STARS II. The NJ STARS II program is reserved for successful scholars of the NJ STARS program who transfer from county college to four-year colleges and universities in New Jersey, including public and private institutions. Students must be enrolled full-time in bachelor's degree programs and demonstrate continued financial need.

The HESAA notes that there are several additional types of aid available to qualifying New Jersey students, including undergraduate loans, graduate and professional aid programs, and programs for military veterans. Students should contact their current or future college's financial aid office directly to learn more about their options.

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