May 1st is the National deadline for college decisions. By this date you will need to sort through your acceptances and commit to a college by placing a deposit. If you are struggling with your decision, here are some tips to help you sort through your options and make the right college choice.
Visit or revisit your final choices
Visits often clinch the decision. If you visited during junior year, that was a long time ago and you may have a very different perspective now. Many colleges offer admitted student events. Visiting a college when you’ve been accepted can be a very different experience than visiting before you applied. Sometimes students are afraid to “fall in love” with a college if they don’t know if they will be admitted or can afford it. It is also a possibility that visiting again you will be able to look beyond prestige or status and better consider if the school is a good fit.
Weigh financial offers
Take the time to carefully crunch the numbers. Look at the requirements of any merit scholarships. Do you have to maintain a certain GPA and is it a realistic GPA for you? While of course we want to think optimistically about college GPA, the reality is that it is not that uncommon for students to end up losing merit scholarships.
Remember that grants don’t need to be paid back but loans do. If you are taking out student loans, set aside an hour to work with student loan calculators. Make sure you absolutely understand how much debt you will be taking out by the end of college and what sort of monthly payment you can expect to make. Consider the average time to graduation and see how that will affect your costs. Even a single year of extra tuition can add a huge amount to the final price-tag. Encourage your parents to talk openly and honestly with you about costs and what they are comfortable with. While it is important you attend a college that is a good fit, your needs always need to be weighed with other family priorities including your parents’ retirement and the education of your siblings.
Finally, as you weigh financial matters consider the value of your degree. While prestige should not be the biggest factor to consider, it is worth evaluating how your degree will prepare you for career or graduate and professional school. Minor differences in ranking are probably unimportant, but be wary of colleges that are hurting financially or have been having trouble attracting students. You don’t want to attend a college that will close down or where you will be unable to count on the alumni network.
Take a closer look at academics
Dig into the college’s website and take a long hard look at academics. Most courses you take in college will not be in your major area of interest. So start with looking at general education requirements. Will you need to take very many courses? Do the courses look interesting to you? If you have planned majors in mind take the time to look in-depth at the course offerings and read about the work of professors in the department. Check the webpages for your major and look for recent news. Do students seem activity engaged in learning? Are there special programs at the school that you hope to participate in?
Think about where will you be happiest
Happy college students are much more likely to be successful. Happiness increases the chance you will stay in college and graduate. Think about the person you actually are, not some fantasy about the person you want to become. When you think about who you are right now, what factors are most important to you? Consider academic challenge, friends, arts, sports, faith, community service, campus activities, and time in nature. Try to visualize yourself on a typical weekday in college. Where do you see yourself? What about on a weekend? Of the schools you are considering, which ones offer you the greatest chance of finding a peer group you will connect with?
There are many paths to a good life. If after weighing these considerations you still are struggling to make a decision, that suggests you could be happy at any of the schools you are considering. There are no perfect colleges and no perfect college decisions, but many very good ones. Remember that most students end up being happy with their college choice.