How to Choose a College for Next Fall


So, you’ve received some acceptance letters. Congratulations! Enrollment deadlines are fast approaching. You’ve spent the past three and a half months waiting to hear from the schools you applied to, and now they’re anxiously waiting to hear from you. (Take a minute to enjoy thinking about how the tables have turned.)


This is the really exciting part, but making a final decision can also be stressful. You may be comparing different financial aid packages, weighing the pros and cons of big vs. small schools, rural vs. urban campuses, etc.


Here are a few things to consider when making your decision about where to enroll.


Revisit your application


You may be tempted to review the promotional materials your schools sent you when they issued their acceptances, and that’s fine. But remember that brochures and webpages for accepted students are designed by expert advertisers, whose job is to make every school look like an intellectual paradise.


It’s important for you to remember why you applied in the first place. Take a look at your supplemental essays, for starters, especially essays on why you wanted to attend a particular college. Revisit any email exchanges you had with students or professors at the college. Look at the notes you took when you were building your college list. All this will remind you of the pros (and maybe cons) of the schools you’re now considering.


You may look back and realize your priorities have changed. Maybe you applied to College A primarily because of geography, and you now realize that location isn’t such an important factor for you. College A loses a couple points. Maybe back in the fall you were convinced you wanted to be an engineer, but now you’re not so sure. Maybe you’d now prefer one of your schools with more of a liberal arts focus.





Picture yourself four years from now


Think about your longterm goals. If you’re hesitating between two or three schools, try to picture yourself at those schools four years from now. What opportunities (courses, clubs, study abroad programs) will you have taken advantage of at each school by the time you graduate?


Of course, you also need to keep in mind that many students change direction in college. You also need to balance this pragmatic approach with your gut feeling. You may find yourself thinking, “I feel like I’ll make more money if I go to College A, but I’m more excited about College B—the classes I visited were more stimulating and the students seemed more engaged and happier.” Think longterm, but also pay attention to your gut.


Think critically about rankings


Many students (and families) get hung up on national rankings. Rankings can be important, but they are based on all kinds of factors, some of which may not be particularly relevant in your individual case.


Let’s say you want to be a history major, and you’re hesitating between two colleges, one of which is ranked slightly higher than the other. Revisit your research on the respective history departments. The lower-ranked school may have a stronger history program. Their history graduates may have better success when it comes to graduate school acceptances, for example. These are important factors to keep in mind.


Talk it out


Dialogue can be very helpful when it comes to making tough choices. Make sure you’re discussing your options with your family, friends, teachers, and of course, your college counselor. Discuss pros and cons. Talk about why you chose to apply in the first place, and your impressions after your campus visits. You may realize what’s most important to you in a college as you talk it out.


Remember, however, that this is your decision—don’t let someone talk you into enrolling at a certain college. Your parents, especially, may have certain expectations of you, or their own preferences about what school you choose. Listen to them: they may make a good point or two. But you don’t want to choose a certain school just because your dad wants you close to home, or because your mom went there.


Visit campuses again


You’ve still got a couple weeks to make your decision. If possible, take a trip back to the colleges you’re considering. This is a great chance to (re)check your gut feeling. Maybe it’s been a while since you visited. Maybe last time you visited it was a different season. This is your chance to see the college with new eyes—after all, last time you visited, you hadn’t yet been accepted. See how it feels to be on campus. See what it’s like to picture yourself there.


Make sure you come equipped with questions. Meet with any contacts you have on campus (students, professors, admissions folks). You can also reach out to a professor or two before you visit. Spend some time hanging around the dinning hall(s), the book store, the student center, the library. Engage students in conversation.


If all else fails, flip a coin


Just kidding—sort of. This is an important decision that you don’t want to leave up to chance. But if you’ve narrowed it down to two schools and find yourself pulling your hair out, try the coin flip just for fun (heads: College A; tails: College B). See how it makes you feel. Let’s say the coin says College A, and you find yourself saying, “OK, best out of three.” This may be an indication that you’re leaning toward College B. It’s a good way to check your gut reaction.

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