Making the Final Decision (page 3)
After a year or more of working and worrying, it's done: you've received word from all the colleges to which you applied. All that remains in your college quest is making the final decision. Which college will you attend?
This decision may be easy for students who were accepted to their first-choice college. But for the majority of students--those whose first choice denied their application and those who never had a clear first choice--that final decision can be difficult. If you're agonizing between two or more colleges, read on for help in making that big decision with confidence.
Back to Basics
Before you look at the colleges themselves, go back to where you started--yourself. Think about what you want out of college. Have your priorities changed since you began the college search? Some students find that their preferences and goals change somewhat over the course of their college search, as they learn more about college and about themselves.
Take a few minutes to jot down the top five (or more) things you want out of your college experience. If you're feeling more ambitious, write a description of your ideal college. What do the classes look like? What kind of things do you envision yourself doing on the weekends? What interests do you plan on pursuing (academic or otherwise) while at college? The more details you can think of, the better.
Then sit back and look at what you've written. Do one or more of the colleges you're considering match your description? Is there one college that has most of the characteristics that interest you?
Dare to Compare
Every college has different strengths and weaknesses. One college might have a better reputation in your preferred major--but not the extracurricular activities you want. Another may have a strong program in your favorite extracurricular activity--but also a higher price tag. A third may seem like it has everything, except for the fact that it is much farther away from home than you're really comfortable with.
It's easy to start thinking in circles when you try to compare two or more colleges that you genuinely like. Here's one way to help get your thoughts in order.
"Spread out all the acceptance letters and financial aid offers out on the dining room table," Laurice Sommers, coordinator for college partnerships and curricular enrichment for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said. On one blank sheet of paper for each college, make two columns-"like" and "dislike" (or "pro" and "con"). Then list the positive and negative aspects of each college.
"This exercise helps students to look at the colleges objectively and provides a starting place for the family conversation," Sommers said.
On the Road
One of the best ways to clarify your choices is to visit the colleges, even if you've been there before.
"Colleges often look different once you are accepted versus when you are 'just looking,'" said Carla Shere from Learning Leaders.
During these visits, spend as much time as possible talking to people--current students, faculty members, coaches, and others. Many colleges allow prospective students to stay overnight in a residence hall to get a taste of student life. Read the student newspaper, attend a class or two, work out in the gym. Stand in the middle of campus, look around, and try to imagine yourself spending the next few years here.
"A visit can go a long way toward helping a student feel that the fit is right," Dave Fletcher, associate director of admission at Barry University (FL), said.
If you need financial aid to afford college, cost may be the deciding factor.
"Often, a student's choices come down to money," Amy Thompson, college and career counselor at York Community High School (IL), said. "Who is offering the best deal?"
Compare financial aid offers carefully. If you'd be paying about the same at each college, look at what kind of aid each college offers. Colleges can vary widely in how much of their packages are grants (free money) versus loans (that you pay back).
Also, discuss with your parents the real cost of attending each college. Two colleges may have similar costs, but you may end up spending more to travel to a distant college versus one nearer home; or you may spend more at an urban campus, since living in a city is usually a bit more expensive.
But don't feel obligated to go to the least expensive school just because it is the least expensive. It may be worth it to you and your family to pay a bit more if the college is a better match for your needs. "[Finances] are usually weighted along with how much students like a particular school," Thompson said.
Consult with Others--but Make Your Own Decision
Talk about your options with your family, friends, high school counselor, and teachers. Often, just discussing your choices and your thoughts about them can help you make up your mind.
But don't let others make up your mind for you. What's right for your friends or impressive to your teachers is not necessarily right for you.
"Although [others] shouldn't tell you where to attend, they can often offer insight you haven't thought about," Shere said.
The Gut Factor
When it comes down to that final decision, many experts advise students to go with their gut feeling--that indefinable confidence that a particular college just "feels right." After all, you've done the research, you've put in the work of applying, and several admission offices have given you their vote of confidence. So go with the college that you feel comfortable with, the one that you're excited about--the one that makes you think, "THIS is college."
You may feel that there's only one "right" choice, and that choosing "wrong" dooms you to four years of misery. In reality, you chose the colleges you applied to very carefully--and you'd probably be happy at any of them. Remember, too, that your choice is not necessarily final: a good number of students transfer every year. Of course, many more students don't transfer--which is a good sign that the majority of college students are happy with their choice.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. © 2008 National Association for College Admission Counseling.
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