Congratulations! March is coming to a close, which means you will be hearing back from all of the colleges that you have applied to. The national deadline to commit to a college is May 1st, so you have until then to choose which college you want to attend. This blog will give you some factors to consider when making your final college decision and some factors that you should not consider when making this life-changing decision.
If you were waitlisted to any colleges, you should check out my last blog all about the college waitlist, here: www.shcollegeconsulting.com/our-advice-blog/waitlisted-to-college-what-you-should-and-should-not-do.
Factors To Consider When Choosing What College to Attend:
1. Finances: This is probably the biggest factor that determines whether you can attend a college or not. For each of the colleges you were accepted into, you should create a spreadsheet of how much tuition costs. For each college, mark down how much tuition would be depending on if you are in-state or out-of-state. Note that tuition should include room and board or apartment-expenses, unless you will be commuting to college from home.
If you submitted the FAFSA and received any financial aid or earned any scholarships, subtract those costs from that college’s tuition on your spreadsheet. Having everything written down will be helpful so that you can easily compare and visualize how much attending each college would cost. Additionally, if you received financial aid packages that differ between colleges, you may try to use one college’s financial aid package to work with another college to see if they can increase your financial aid package.
Once you have noted how much each college will cost to attend, you and your family will probably need to have a conversation regarding finances. Ask yourself if a specific college is practical to attend without taking on a lot of student loans or debt. Some students have to turn down great colleges because financially it is not affordable for them and their families.
2. Opportunities for your Track/Major: Check out each college’s website to see the kinds of opportunities there are for students interested in your major or track (like pre-med, pre-law etc). Is there a major for what you are interested in? Does the school offer many majors? When do you declare a major? Are you allowed to change your major? What kinds of internship, research, and networking opportunities does the college offer? These are some good questions to ask to make sure you will get the most out of the academics at the college.
However, when researching, you should not just look at the major/track you are interested in, but see what other majors and programs the college offers as well. Chances are you may change your major a few times. I went into college thinking I may major in Political Science, and actually switched between 4 different majors before choosing my final double major of Cognitive Science and Legal Studies!
3. Attend a Campus Visit/Admitted Student Day: Attending campus visits are a great way to learn more about the colleges you were accepted to. Even if you already went on a tour before you applied to the college, attending another tour once accepted is a great way to see the college in a new light. With the pandemic, attending a college tour is easier because most colleges are offering online virtual tour options, which is an option that many colleges did not have before.
You should also see if the colleges you were accepted into are offering any Admitted Student Events. Both tours and events specifically for admitted students are good ways to learn more about the university and can help you decide if you can truly envision yourself attending. Pre-pandemic, some colleges offered overnight stay programs and shadow days for admitted students. At these events, you would attend different programs throughout the day and then sleep in a dorm room for the night. This kind of event would allow you to learn more about the college and see what a typical student does during the day and night!
If you want more information about how to get the most out of your campus tours, check out this blog by Sarah, here: https://www.shcollegeconsulting.com/our-advice-blog/getting-the-most-out-of-virtual-campus-visitstours.
4. Ask Current Students Questions: The best way to learn about a college to see if it is the right fit for you would be to ask current college students questions. Current students at each college will give you the most honest answers about what they love and hate about their college. You can only get so much information from a college website, but through students you can get into the nitty gritty. If you do not know any current students at the colleges you were accepted to, you can ask questions on the campus tours, because those are usually led by a student ambassador!
You can ask questions such as: what is your daily life like; what is something you would change about your college; what kind of student would thrive at this college; is the college atmosphere cut-throat and competitive; what is the graduation rate; what’s the percentage of students who get jobs post-grad, go to graduate school, versus are unemployed; does the school inflate/deflate grades?
5. Class Size: You should look into or ask about the total undergraduate population at each college. Inquiring if there are graduate students on campus and what percent of the total population are graduate students can also be informative.
With class size, you may also want to see what the average class size is for the college. At larger colleges, the class size for the introductory classes many freshmen and sophomores need to take can have 500, 1,000, or even 2,000 students in them. If you are coming from a smaller high school where your classes had 20 to 30 students in them, transitioning to a college class of 500 or 1,000 could be difficult at first. You should think about your learning style and the size of classes at each college and decide what kinds of classes you prefer and can learn the best in.
6. Availability of professors, advisors, staff: Research and ask questions about whether the professors, advisors, and staff are available to students regularly. At some colleges, you may be able to easily and freely meet with professors and advisors as they have a lot of office hours or times you can book them by appointment. Compared to other colleges, you may have to schedule a time to meet a month in advance in order to chat with an advisor or professors may not hold office hours. If you would like to be able to ask questions and schedule times to meet, the lack of availability could be a deterrent from you choosing a certain college.
7. Location and Safety: Location is a big factor when deciding colleges as a college’s location is usually a big draw or deterrent for students. Is the college near a major city or has a prominent college town? Or is the college more rural and is further away from regular civilization? Which kind of location would you prefer? During the college visits, you can also ask the students what they do on the weekends and what they do for fun at their college, so you can see if you would enjoy similar activities or not.
With location, you may also want to research the surrounding area and inquire about safety on the college campus. What safety precautions does the college provide? Is there a lot of crime on the college campus or adjacent areas? Do students feel safe on campus? These questions can help you figure out if you would feel comfortable studying and living on the college campus.
8. Pandemic Response: Some colleges have announced their tentative plans for the Fall 2021 semester: whether classes will be fully in-person, fully online, or a hybrid model. These Fall 2021 plans can guide your decisions depending on what your personal preferences are for online classes versus in-person classes. Additionally, looking at how a college has handled the pandemic so far is a good guide into how they communicate with their students. Has the college communicated clearly and regularly regarding their pandemic plans? Or has the college left their students in the dark with no resources? Administration communication may be a factor that you consider.
Factors You Should Not Consider When Choosing What College to Attend:
1. Choose a College Solely on Prestige/College Rankings: Don’t pick a college solely because it is the highest ranked college you were accepted into. You should consider the factors in the first part of this blog and see if the college is what you are looking for in terms of academics, extracurriculars, opportunities, and social life.
2. Don’t Follow Someone Else: Similar to not attending a college solely based on rankings, you should not attend a college just because a friend or partner is going to attend that college. You should come to your final college decision on your own. If you research all of your colleges and choose to attend the same college as a friend/partner, then that is great!
3. Rebelling Against Your Parents: You should not choose a college just because your parents don’t want you to attend. Looking at all of your research, if this college is the one you love the most, you can try to persuade your parents to change their minds about it.
4. You Only Love Their Sports: Maybe you grew up watching college sports or rooting for a college sports team, but you should not attend a college because you're a super-fan. Being a fan helps, but make sure you do your research and fall in love with other facets about the college and can thrive there academically.
5. Attractiveness of the Student Body: Finally, you should probably not pick your college based on how attractive the students are. Similar to the other factors you should not consider, attractiveness is a plus, but should not be the only factor you consider.
Hopefully these factors you should and should not consider will help you narrow down your college choices and make a college decision! Want to suggest future blog topics that we write about? Fill out our suggestion form at https://tinyurl.com/SHCCBlogs.
Rachel is the Founder of Study Hall College Consulting. Rachel graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2020 where she double majored in Cognitive Science and Legal Studies. For more application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.