Whether you call it National Candidates Reply Date, or Decision Day, or OMG This Is Real Day, May 1 is one short month away. If you haven’t already accepted an offer of admission, this is your day to decide where you’ll spend the next four years of your life. No big deal! As a high school senior, this is likely the biggest decision you’ve ever had to make. There are so many factors to consider, from tuition, staying close to home (or getting as far away as you can manage,) an active Greek system, a great football team, oh and academics. Before you commit to a college, read our five best tips for making a choice you’ll be happy with.
1. Get a Realistic View of Your Total Debt
College is the biggest decision you’ll have made thus far in your life, and how you pay for it will likely be the second-biggest. Big envelopes and warm, fuzzy admissions letters can easily make you starry eyed about the reality of college debt. Sit down with your parent or guardian, or an adult you trust like a college counselor, and make sure you understand your total financial outlay, including tuition, books, living expenses, visits back home, entertainment, and the interest that will accrue over the life of your loan. Consider what you may expect to earn directly out of college so you can calculate what your loan repayment will be compared to your monthly salary.
We know these aren’t fun or exciting exercises, but trust us, you’ll be thankful you did them. Add up all potential aid, work-study, and scholarships, and see where you will gain the most value. It could be that a private institution’s aid package is much more generous than your state school, or your state school could be the best choice. That might mean you’ll have to forgo your “dream” school but know that where you go is not going to determine the rest of your life. Really!
2. Mind Your Major
What will you major in once you’re in college? If you’ve already picked a major, consider a school’s reputation in your particular field. If you’re a Fine Arts major accepted to a school with a heavy science and engineering focus, you may not find the studio space, resources, or as much recognition for your work. Or, if you’d like to attend medical school in the future, you’ll want to be in a school with a rigorous science curriculum, with plenty of opportunities for research and pre-health advising. Even the best schools aren’t the best in every major. Find the one where your main area of focus is best served.
3. Talk to Students and Alums
Your New England dream college’s brochure will be plastered with warmly lit photos of amber fall foliage and every page will tout the highlights: butternut squash pizza in the dining hall, loft-style dorms, and rankings. Get beyond the spin and talk to current students and alumni. If you haven’t visited the schools you’ve applied to, try and attend admitted student weekends. If visiting is a hardship, find current students on social media and get the real deal from those who’ve been through it. Learn what they love, what they don’t love, and what the daily grind is like. It’s rarely amber fall foliage all the time. While on tour, step away from the chipper tour guide and check out campus common areas. Can you picture yourself there?
4. Real Talk
You owe it to yourself to be honest about what you like, where you’re happy, and where you’ll thrive. Allow yourself time for introspection, and be a little selfish. This may mean you part ways (temporarily) with your high school BFFs, or that you see your parents only on holidays and in the summer. If you take the time, one choice will just feel right. Many students realize this when they visit campus and everything feels like it clicks into place. Go with that feeling.
5. It’s a Big Decision But It’s Not Forever
While you don’t want to “just pick something”, don’t feel crippled by the seeming finality of this decision. It may not be an ideal situation, but if a school choice you’ve made truly isn’t right for you, you can transfer to another school that is better suited. You’re not landing an airplane — , you’re allowed to make mistakes! Make picking a school a positive decision, and a happy first step toward your life as an adult and remember that you’re doing the best you can with the information you have. It’s going to be ok!
How are you choosing between your finalists? Already decided? How did you make your final choice?