With the National Day to Commit fast approaching, you’re probably feeling a mix of excitement, nerves, confusion, and maybe some bittersweet emotions all at the same time. While many students may have already finalized their next steps and committed to their choice college, many of you might still be unsure what decision to make. For those of you in that confusing position, look no further! Here are some tools to really think about what college will be the best fit for you, and help you feel confident in committing to a new place for the next 4 years!
1. What is my financial plan?
For some of you, your parents/guardians may largely be involved in the decision process for college, mainly because of the question of affordability. Can you and your family afford to go to the college you want? Are there scholarship opportunities to help alleviate the burden? Will you be taking out student loans or looking for alternate payment plans? Will you be working while also going to school in order to pay for food or supplement tuition? Are you an in-state or out-of-state student, and how does that impact tuition and boarding?
It’s important to talk about your plans with any monetarily invested parties. If you’re paying for college on your own, what is your plan, and have you investigated all of your financial aid options? Some colleges may even offer a certain amount of immediate aid outlined in your acceptance letter, so be sure to take that into account.
Think about this decision carefully - don’t judge a university solely by its price tag. Remember that there are many colleges that can give you an incredibly rewarding and challenging experience, but also come at a lower cost. College is what you make of it, and “reputation” can only take you so far, so remember to look beyond the prestige.
2. Does this college fit the person I am today AND the person I want to become?
It’s important for a college to support your growth: to not only have opportunities to suit the interests you have now and the person you are when you graduate from high school, but also change and grow as you do. If you come right out of high school into college, by the time you graduate you’ll be 22-23 years old - which might feel light years away at this point. At that point, you’ll likely have new dreams and a host of memories and experiences behind you shaping who you are. The world and college has a way of changing you, and you want the college to which you dedicate the next several years to match your shifting ambitions and support your ability to change your mind.
3. Do you feel at home?
Having a college that is accepting and welcoming to all is incredibly important for the mental well-being and academic growth of all students. You want to be able to change and grow during college, and embrace new interests and ideas. Make sure that there are adequate support systems to find care in the hardest of times, and carefully seek out communities that you could see yourself calling home. Do you feel drawn to certain communities already? The way that current students feel about their college and the extent to which they feel comfortable speaking their mind or being themselves can be an important indicator for how you’ll feel once you’re a student there.
Do the values and opportunities for exploration align with yours? Do you feel challenged and able to contribute in an academic environment? Does the university allocate financial support to groups and events that matter to you? Think about how your dreams align with the pillars of the college you’re looking at, and ask yourself if you get a gut positive or unsure feeling.
4. What kind of environment is most conducive to my learning style?
How do you learn best? Do you prefer to get a detailed overview in a large lecture hall and then have a chance to reconnect in smaller groups and discuss? Do you learn by doing/conducting experiments and seeing ideas play out in the real world? Do you prefer all small, tight-knit classes? Thinking about the way in which you learn best, and aligning that with the standard day-to-day of the college you ultimately go to is important. The university has already decided that they think you’re a good fit academically, so now it’s your turn to decide if you feel the same way. You want to feel challenged, but you also don’t want to feel like there’s not enough academic support and opportunities for you to get the most out of your years there.
5. Do you like the campus and its surrounding environment?
Realistically, you’ll likely spend the next 4 or more years at this college, so you want to make sure that you feel excited by the physical locations where you’ll be spending most of your time. What is the nightlife like around your college? Are there music or art venues you could go to on the weekend? Are there sports games or nature areas to explore? Think about the kind of social and extracurricular experience you want, and think about the actual campus on which you’ll be living. Ask current students about what there is to do in town, and find a place where you could see yourself being happy.
Overall, there’s no easy way to tell you exactly what college will be best. You should go with your gut feeling, and send yourself somewhere that you are excited to call your home - somewhere you are excited to grow and learn, and somewhere that will not put you in dire financial straits to go. Ultimately, find a college that gives you a good balance of academic challenge, social excitement, and brand-new exploration - college is meant to push you and enable you to learn the most useful life skills. Ultimately, go somewhere you think could help you be happy.
Sarah is a Consultant and Social Media Marketing Manager on the Study Hall College Consulting Team. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley in the class of 2020 where she majored in Architecture and minored in Spanish Language and Literature. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.