Grade 9-12

Education: Weigh Your Options

Updated: October 28 2015,
Author: Patricia Bonner

Getting and keeping a job often requires special education or training. While an employer may provide or pay for some additional education or training, workers often have to obtain it on their own. In this lesson, students use a weighted decision-making grid to choose a school that provides education or training for their chosen field of employment. Students use both financial and non-financial criteria in weighting their alternatives. If the teacher desires, the decision grid can be created by means of a computer spreadsheet. Students discover that major decisions like this one often involve trade-offs—getting less of one thing in exchange for more of something else. A weighted decision-making process can help them make the choice that best fits their interests and circumstances.


Tell the students there was a time when a person was hired for a job, and he or she then could count on the employer to provide training on the job. Today, more and more employers expect workers to have education and training beyond a high school degree before hiring them. And learning doesn’t end once a person is hired; it will continue throughout a person’s Army Menlife in response to changes in the work world. While an employer may provide or at least pay for some of the education and training needed, workers often have to obtain some additional education on their own. Chances are students will have to invest their own time, money, and effort to continue their education throughout their lifetimes.

Explain that the students are going to explore their options for getting additional education or training after high school. For some, this will mean enrollment in a college degree program; others may want to explore a vocational or technical program. If some of your students are considering the military after high school, they also can use the decision process you'll introduce here . They should include various branches of the military among their alternatives.

Learning Objectives

  • Use a weighted decision-making model to evaluate alternatives for postsecondary education.
  • Identify trade-offs made in their decisions.

Resource List


Introduce the students to the five-step decision-making process that uses a weighted grid to help them make a major choice—selecting an education or training program after high school. It is assumed students have already invested some time thinking about their post-high school employment interests.

The students can print copies of the decision grid individually, but you may prefer to make copies in advance and distribute them at this time.

[NOTE: If your students are familiar with spreadsheets, this is an excellent opportunity for them to apply this knowledge. Have them work individually or in teams creating a spreadsheet that duplicates the elements of the decision-making grid. They can enter formulas that will automatically total the weighted scores for each alternative.]

STEP 1: State the Problem Education

Encourage the students to be as specific as possible in identifying the type of school and learning program that is right for them. If they need help, encourage them to visit these Web pages:

Direct the students to state their problem at the top of one copy of the Weighted Decision Grid.

STEP 2: Define and Weight the Criteria

Explain that choosing a school can involve many criteria. Criteria are standards people consider in making a decision. Some of the most common ones people consider are provided on this checklist. After they review the checklist, the students should consider and respond to the following:

  1. 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.
  2. Are there other criteria not on the list that are important to you? List them in the criteria column as well.
  3. 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 being the most important and 1 the least important. Record these numbers in the weight column.

STEP 3: Identify the Alternatives

In this step, the students identify at least two specific schools and programs as alternatives for solving their problem. If time allows, you may want them to increase the number of alternatives to three or four. In real life, there are frequently more than two options.

The students write a different school or program name in the boxes marked "alternatives" on their decision grids. They will need extra copies of the Grid if they have more than two alternatives. Ideally, the students should write their criteria on one grid and make copies of this page. This reduces their time on task and the chance of making an error in transferring information to other pages.

Encourage those who need help finding specific schools that offer a program of interest to them, or assistance in narrowing down their choices, to visit one or more of these Web sites:

  • The includes nearly 7,000 colleges and technical schools that can be searched by geographic region, academic program, and the availability of student financial aid. The students should click the box labeled “Title IV participating” at the bottom of the search page if they plan to apply for federal aid.
  • 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.

STEP 4: Evaluate the Alternatives

Using the information provided by the Web links in Step 3 and school Web sites, the students evaluate each alternative according to their criteria, using a scale of 1 to 10, with fulfilling the criterion completely and one not fulfilling it at all.

Give the students specific directions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Add up your weighted scores for each school and enter them as Total Weighted Score at the bottom of the grid.

Now look at you 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 Fork In The Road

In the fifth step the students make their decisions, using the information gathered. Here, point out that there is probably no perfect choice. As with most big decisions, there will be trade-offs–getting a little more of one thing in exchange for a little less of something else. A student who wanted to go to school in another state may realize that it is less expensive to stay closer to home. In that case, cost may outweigh 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.


After the students have completed their decision-grids and made their choices, have them do the following online interactive activity and discuss their answers as a class. 

View Interactive Activity

  1. In what other situations might you use a decision-making process similar to this one? [Answers will vary, but may include choosing a career, buying a car, and deciding where to live.]
  2. What is the advantage of this decision-making model over other models you have used? [The model helps the user keep track of a lot of different criteria. Because it is weighted, the decision maker can give more importance to some criteria and less importance to others.]
  3. Are there any disadvantages to this type process? [In some cases the amount of time required to create and use the model may be a disadvantage. It would rarely make sense to use such a complex model for a very simple problem with minimal consequences, such as what television show to watch or which tee shirt to buy.]

A weighted decision-making process is a valuable tool for evaluating choices that are complex and have major consequences. The grid offers an organized way to consider lots of options in light of many different factors (criteria). It helps the decision maker clarify options and see the trade-offs. It increases the chances of making the best choice.

Extension Activity

Have the students:

  1. Financial Aid Research sources of financial assistance for 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. Check the legitimacy and complaint record of their chosen schools. 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. Students who are considering one of these schools should check it out carefully:

    1. 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. A school should be willing to provide the name and phone number for this organization.
    2. 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 schools and determines that 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.
    3. Check with government and the in the state where your students 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.


Assessment is based on student completion of the weighted decision-making grid and preparation of short papers concerning  their choices.  In the papers, the students should explain their choices and identify trade-offs they had to make. This assessment rubric provides a model for your use in scoring student work.