Choosing Your New Home For the Next Four Years (aka Choosing Your College)

Last December, you were praying that just one of the colleges you applied to would come through with an acceptance letter. If it did, your decision on where to attend would be easy, but after all your stress, you find you have multiple offers to choose from and no clear front runner, because, all of your advisors said to fall in love with all the schools in your list, not just one. Now, however, it is time to select your home for the next four years. Here are some tips to help you make the decision.

First of all, don’t get too hung up on the difference between a college ranked 20 vs. one ranked 50 (or 100 vs 140). The rankings are mostly based on things that have nothing to do with your experience there (like what other educators think of the school, how many students they reject, etc), and, in actuality, there are only minute differences in rankings 20 – 30 spots apart. Secondly, have that frank discussion about affordability. If that $64,000 a year school has offered no scholarships, and is not affordable, make that tough decision to take it off the list now rather than continuing to pursue an unattainable option. Use a cost comparison worksheet to calculate the true cost of each college. It can be possible to find a private school cheaper than an in-state option with scholarships and financial aid. Also consider, average time to graduation – for UC and CSU’s it is wise to use at least 4.5 years (5 years is safer and a conservative estimate) to compare costs. Most private schools will work with you to get to a 4 year graduation. Make sure you double check your program, there are some (like engineering at University of San Diego) which are planned to take 5 years. Cost does need to take its seat at the evaluation table.

It is also time to get on campus.  At this point, visiting campus to get a feel for whether it is a fit for you is imperative to making a final decision. Before you go make a list of things which are important to you, so that you can be sure and rate each one as it meets your needs. You can do this as a worksheet with numerical rankings or as a list of each schools pros and cons. Here’s a good sample checklist: http://college.usatoday.com/2012/12/28/the-25-question-checklist-for-choosing-a-college/

The first thing to consider is the academic offerings:

  • Do they have your program?
  • Do they have great advising?
  • How is the career center? Do they have lots of access to internships and research?
  • Are there specific General Ed requirements or Academic clusters?
  • Are you accepted directly into your major or is there pre-work for 2 years before you are formally admitted to your program?
  • How is easy is it to change majors if you are uncertain as to your declared major?
  • Do they have a senior thesis (and do you want to do one)?

Some other items to rank:

  • Location
  • Ease getting to and from campus
  • School Size
  • Class size
  • Housing
  • Student diversity
  • Clubs and Greek Life

If you recall, when you first started working with us, you completed a survey about what was important to you. You can refer to it now to help you evaluate your options.   Here are a bunch of things you can do while on campus to help you make a decision:

  • Do the admitted student’s day
  • Sit in on a class
  • Meet a professor or 2
  • Meet the Dean
  • Meet the advising staff
  • Do an overnight
  • Tour the surrounding area (is it safe, can you get to the grocery store, inexpensive places to eat off campus, public transport, how will you get home)
  • Eat at the cafeteria and hang out in the student union. You’ll be eating and hanging out for 4 years if all goes well!!!  Ask at the admissions office if they have complimentary tickets for the cafeteria.  While there:
    1.    Eavesdrop – what are the students talking about?
    2.    Are there visible cliques or do groups seem to be integrating well?
    3.    Are students heads down or engaged in conversation (if they’re heads down – remember, it might be mid-terms or finals weeks)
    4.    Do students “grab and go” or “stay and gab”?
    5.    Talk to students, ask them about their school, what major, what they like and dislike. Most of them will be happy to talk to you.

Write down your thoughts.  Capture any highlights and showstoppers. Do this right away or you may find schools blurring as the day/week goes along. You can use this scorecard if you need a place to keep track:http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/collegesearch/campus_visit_score_card.pdf or this one:https://www.cappex.com/media/collegeVisitChecklist.pdf

Have your parents also jot down their thoughts about the school.  Sometimes they’ll see things that you might have missed. (Plus it’s good to make them feel like they are involved in the process :}).

As you are researching all of these components, start to compare your schools. Are there any compelling reasons to attend or conversely, any big red flags? What is your gut instinct telling you? Take your time and trust yourself. If you are still undecided when you return from your visits, feel free to schedule an appointment with Jennifer or myself to review your options and gain objective feedback.

Once you’ve decided, and after you’ve put down your deposit on your chosen school, make sure you notify the other schools that you have decided not to attend. This will allow those schools to make waitlist decisions and allow anxious students an opportunity at their dreams. Lastly, gear up and start the countdown to your new home!

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