For some students, the final decision regarding which college to attend is the toughest part of the admission process. Here are some tips to help you sort out your options.
Stay as calm as possible. While this is an important decision, allowing yourself to be overwhelmed with anxiety will not help you make a better choice. Give yourself some breathing room; you don’t have to decide today, or even tomorrow. You have until May 1 to make your choice. Taking a break from worrying about choosing a college to do something fun and relaxing can make it easier to decide. If you feel pressured by parents or friends to make a choice, ask them to respect that you’re still deciding.
Start with you, not the colleges. You may find it helpful to make a list of the top eight or ten characteristics you hope to find in your future college home. Try to focus on both quantifiable factors (cost, size, location, academics) as well as intangibles (social fit, reputation, campus “feel”). Remember, this list is about what you think is important, not the factors your parents, neighbor, or best friend think matter most. Then rank each characteristic by its importance to you. Don’t worry about which colleges match up best just yet. The point of this exercise is to spend time listening to your head and heart.
Evaluate each college separately. Before you compare colleges, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each school individually based on the characteristics that matter most to you. If you feel you need more information, do some more research. Try to visit campus, review the school’s website again, and ask questions of admission officers, faculty, and current students. Your gut instinct about each college is important to weigh as well.
Narrow your options. After mulling over what matters most to you and weighing each college’s strengths and weaknesses, you’ll likely find that at least a few of your options don’t resonate as strongly with you. It’s OK to let those colleges go.
Compare your remaining choices in pairs. Make a chart with the colleges’ names along the top and the qualities you seek along the side. For each paired comparison, write the name of the college that seems to best match each characteristic you’re looking for. Don’t forget to use both your head (logic) and heart (instinct) as you consider each pair of choices. When you’re done, add up which colleges received the most “votes” as you compared them to the others. Narrow your list further by eliminating any colleges that clearly don’t stand up to the other options.
There are no perfect college choices; there are only different ones. Deciding where to attend college is the last step in the long and tiring college application journey. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that you must be absolutely 100% certain that you’ve chosen the perfect college to guarantee your future happiness and success. In truth, there is no perfect college, nor are there any guarantees of your success. In the end, your college experience will be defined more by the attitude with which you approach it than by the actual college you attend.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by The College Advisor, prepared for our clients and their families.