“Have you decided where you’re going to college next year?”
For some college-bound high school seniors, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” But for others, this decision is causing a whole lot of stress, anxiety, and confusion.
If you happen to be in the “others” category, chances are, your answer goes something like this: “Yes…no…maybe…oh forget it, I have no idea which school I’m going to choose.”
As a long-time high school guidance counselor, I've seen hundreds of student wrestle with this decision.
Here's what I want you to know: Before you hit the panic button, I want you to take a deep breath, relax, and remember that you have all the tools you need to make this decision.
Is there a perfect college?
Do you ever wonder if there is a perfect college? Even though there probably isn't a "perfect" college, that doesn’t mean you should make this decision on the fly.
You are going to be spending several years attending classes at this school, so it’s worth your time to dig a little deeper and find out which school you are the most passionate about.
There's a good chance you’ve spent countless hours doing the research and making a pros and cons list for each school. You probably know the academics and majors available, cost of attendance, and other logistical considerations such as distance from home and what’s close to campus.
In other words, you’ve done the thinking part. And now you need to tap into the feeling or emotional part of the decision.
Revisiting the schools
If you're seriously torn between two or more different schools, then it's time to pack your bags and head out on a road trip.
Hopefully, you visited the schools before submitting an application. If not, your first visit may require you to make some speedy decisions.
If you have a friend or former classmate that is going to the school you want to visit, consider asking them for a campus tour. Getting a tour from a current student can really give you a true feel for the campus and what the college has to offer.
You can even check with your guidance counselor to see if they can connect you with someone.
Getting in the right mindset
Since this visit is going to be about the feel of the school, it's important to reframe your thoughts and questions before setting foot on campus.
In order to do this, try focusing on questions that help you hone in on how you "fit" at this school.
Ask yourself how it feels to be on the campus. Do you feel safe and welcome? Are the students and staff friendly and inviting?
What do you love about the school? If you're already happy with the academics, focus on the community aspect of the school and campus.
And finally, if you had to choose today, what would your your gut (and heart) tell you?
Review your pros and cons list
After visiting the schools, go through the selection process again. But this time,compare the answers to the feeling questions listed above.
Make sure to address your deal breakers. This includes the pros and cons you’re not willing to compromise on, regardless of the other things the school has to offer.
Keep the number of deal breakers to a minimum and be realistic.
Consider ditching deal breakers such as the menu at the dining hall, a strong athletic program (unless you are going to be a college athlete), and how many of your friends are going there.
But keep things like academic offerings, proximity to home, and cost of attendance.
Compare financial aid
Because your financial aid package is based on the cost of attending a particular school, your aid amounts will vary from college to college.
If your parents have given you a set amount of money for college, part of your decision needs to be based on the cost of attendance.
Take some time to compare your costs for different schools by plugging your financial aid information directly into our college cost calculator.
Then sit down with your parents or other family members who may be assisting you with this decision and review the information. This should help you get closer to choosing the right college for you.
Make the best decision for you
I’m willing to bet you’ve spent a lot of time listening to what other people have to say about this decision.
Everyone from your parents and teachers to friends, coaches, and significant others may think they know what’s best for you.
And while it’s important to consider what others have to say — especially your parents — you also need to trust your judgement.
Going to college is a huge responsibility — and one that begins and ends with you.