How to make your final decision on where to attend college

How to make your final decision on where to attend college

If you are a senior or the parent of a senior, this is a must-read!

May 1 is just around the corner, but I don’t need to remind you of that. In the past several weeks you (your student) have received many acceptance letters (congratulations!) and it is now time to decide which school to attend.

I totally understand how stressful this can feel, and in your mind it also may feel like the hardest choice you have ever made. Let me assure you that no matter what school you choose, it isn’t the wrong one! Let’s talk through how to get to this decision.

Step 1:
I am assuming you are deciding between two schools to attend. Your first task is to create a list of everything you want in a school. I know lists might seem silly, but I guarantee you it will help in the end. Once you have made a list of everything you want in a school move on to step 2.

Step 2:
Put away the list you just made, and now I want you to make 2 more lists. I want you to write two columns. Column 1 has school 1 and column 2 has school 2. Pretty straight forward, right? Now I encourage you to write down everything these schools have in their respective columns that you have come to love and are excited about.

Step 3:
Go ahead and grab that list from step 1, and now it is time to cross check the 2 schools with everything you want in a school from list 1. I know this seems a little time consuming, but you should be able to pinpoint the important aspects by now.

Step 4:
Once you have compared both of these schools, it’s time to dig in a little bit further. Pull out all of your financial aid award information, including scholarships and loans. Write down the total cost of each school - this includes tuition, room and board if you plan to live on campus, an estimate of how much you plan to spend on books every year, and miscellaneous expenses. Most of the time this is already calculated for you on the school website or the financial aid letter. Afterwards, it will serve you to write down how much money you received from each school that you won’t have to pay back (scholarships and grants) and how much you received in loans.

Step 5:
Once you have started to make that monetary comparison, I believe it’s important to look at travel expenses, and how often you plan on coming home. Will you be booking a flight every few months? Will you have to drive 4 hours home? Can you bring a car to campus? Or will you be taking a train? All of these aspects are important to factor into your final decision because although it is not calculated in your tuition, it is still going to be money you have to spend every year!

Step 6:
Once you have gone through steps 1 through 5 you may start to see a pattern. If you are still struggling with this decision, let’s continue! Another important factor is to visit these campuses again if possible. Even more important, is to try and visit the final campuses around the same time of year and day. Obviously I’m not asking you to time travel, but if you are visiting on a Thursday afternoon, try and schedule your visit at the second campus the following Thursday afternoon. This gives you a better idea of how these campuses may feel especially around the same time. If you visit campus during their spring break, it is really hard to get a feel for what the community will be like for you.

Step 7:
Get connected with a current student. Call the admissions office and ask if there is a current student they know of who is in a major you are interested in, or a student who would be willing to answer your questions. Many admissions offices have student employees or volunteers that would LOVE to chat with you about their experience and answer your questions.

Step 8:
Once you have exhausted all these options, it comes down to having a conversation with your family members. At the end of the day this is a family decision, or whoever is paying the tuition bill. Talking about your thoughts, fears, and expectations is so important to share so everyone is on the same page.

Just know that whatever school you choose is not the wrong one!! There is no perfect college or university. Your experience will always be what you make it. I was talking with a friend this weekend on a hike and I asked her how many times in her career people ask her where she went to college (she is a pediatric nurse). Her answer? You might be surprised… was zero. So I would like to repeat, wherever you choose to attend college, your experience will ALWAYS be what you make of it.

More on the importance of a name brand school next week. For now, have a great week!

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