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Seniors: How To Decide Which College Is Right for You

by Carol Barash, PhD, on Mar 27, 2015 10:07:00 AM

It’s happening! Emails trickle in. Friends have big smiles. Or not. By the end of March you will pretty much know your choices. And you will have a month to decide which college to go to. Maybe you were admitted to your top choices; maybe not. Maybe with scholarships; maybe not. Maybe a couple wait lists. Now what?

How do you sort through and make the right decision for you and your family? Try these three steps to help you decide which college is right for you:

1. Consider all your choices

Consider the strengths of all your choices. Also, be honest about any deal-breakers at those places. Revisit as many of the colleges as possible and talk to students you know who go there. Ask tough questions:

  • Do they have the majors and programs you are most interested in?
  • Is it a community you are excited about—on campus and off?
  • What is the learning community like—small classes or big lectures? Interdisciplinary programs? Study abroad?

Be real about money: How much scholarship money did they offer you? How much debt will you have after four years?

Be holistic: How is each school’s academic and counseling services? What do students say about their tutoring, career coaching, and other services?

Be honest: Are you ready to succeed there? If not, what else do you need to succeed? Summer classes? Help with planning your schedule? Whatever you’re afraid of, ask about it. If they’ve admitted you, they want you to succeed—but at most places, help won’t seek you out; you will have to take charge.

2. Work with what you’ve got

You may be tempted to say “no” to all your current choices and “try again next year.” This is usually a bad choice. Even if you feel you need a year to work or travel to detox from high school and prepare your mind and spirit for college—and you imagine that year will help you get into other colleges—pick the one that’s best from your current choices, and let them know you are taking a year off. Maybe take a year off, but don’t expect a different outcome. You will be applying again in just a few months, and not much will have changed.

Before you make a final decision, communicate and negotiate with the places you were admitted to make sure you have received the best offers you can. If your second choice offered you a lot more scholarship money than your first choice, reach out to the Financial Aid office at your first choice and ask if they can kick in some more. Before you make a final decision, make sure you have the best offers you can get from each college you’ve been admitted to.

What about the waitlist? Ask any place you’re on the waitlist for what the chances are of actually getting admitted, and then be realistic about whether it is worth waiting. I say don’t wait after the date you need to send money to the college you are actually going to attend. That’s just silly.

3. Make a choice and make the most of it

Making choices feels expansive. Each choice opens up space for other choices. So make a choice and enjoy it! Buy the sweatshirt. If you haven’t already signed up for the school’s social media sites, go for it now. Connect with other students who are attending now and who will be your classmates in the fall. This is your new community, imagine yourself there and research courses, activities, and places to hangout—so you are prepared to hit the ground running when you arrive in the fall.

One thing that often shocks students in their first year of college is that there is so much “free time” to choose and organize! Are you ready to manage your own schedule and your own life? Are you prepared to take charge of your own learning in what is likely to be a much less structured learning environment than high school? If you feel like maybe you aren’t ready for so much independence, or you want to plug gaps in your academic training, consider summer programs that will help you make the most of college.

Wherever you are admitted, and wherever you aren’t, the next couple of weeks are a chance to behave with grace: be kind to people who received better offers, and be especially generous with those who have fewer choices than you. As Frank Bruni recently reminded us, it’s not about where you go to college, but what you make of it once you’re there.

Topics:college admission