We all want to be accepted. Accepted by friends, accepted by family and now, accepted by the colleges where you optimistically sent your applications a few months ago. April 1st, no joke, the envelopes are going to start filling your mailbox, and hopefully many will be big, fat letters of acceptance! While it feels nice to be wanted by a university or five, this situation presents its own challenges. You are now in the position of deciding exactly where you will spend the next four years of your life. These are no ordinary years. These are the years when you are transformed from a kid into an adult, when you will meet some amazing people, make life-long friends, choose a career path, and learn more than you thought was humanly possible. Deciding where to spend this time is serious business, but with some organized thought and a bit of self reflection, you can make a choice that will lead you to the right school for you.
When you do find yourself in the enviable position of having to choose which college to attend, you may just find your anxiety levels on the rise. Anxiety can cause people to act a little irrationally, so try to be extra organized during the decision process. In an article in US News.com, one mother assisting her daughter to choose where to study suggested gathering all the information from the different colleges in one place. She went on to say, “We used spreadsheets, which helped to take some of the emotion out of the decision. We could see all the variables for each school right next to each other.”1 Lay out the school brochures side by side. Have all the information you need at your fingertips or pinned to a wall. Go back to the original list of attributes you might have used to select the schools you were applying to originally, and ponder again your options. What was important to you when choosing school options becomes even more important now. Go back to that list of priorities and again, revise it, study it, and understand why these where priorities in the first place; this will certainly help put things in perspective.
Things to review can be location, campus activities, academic programs, student/faculty ratios, financial aid offers, prestige, and so much more. Are you a city mouse or a country mouse? Country mouse? Just how happy would you be spending the next four years in the heart of a bustling metropolis? And vice versa. If you love city living, avoid the rural campuses. You will also need to consider just how far from the family home you’re willing to wander. If you know you can’t survive a Sunday without Mom’s roast dinner, make sure you opt for the campus in the next town, not on the opposite coast. However, if you see heading off to college as your chance to spread your wings, then you may just find that school in a different state is calling your name. Another question you will need to ask yourself is what kind of crowds can you handle. Will you be more comfy getting lost in the crowds of a huge campus, or do you prefer the more intimate settings of a small college?
Once you’ve established your preference for general vicinity and campus size, you need to think about what the school its self has to offer you. If you are dead-set on a particular major, you will obviously want to study someplace that has a reputable department in your chosen field. Many students may have an idea of what they want to be when they grow up, but are open to discovering new possibilities. If this sounds like you, you may want to choose a larger college as it should be able to offer you a wider variety of majors and classes. While you are scrutinizing what academic advantages are on offer, don’t forget to research each school’s extracurricular activities. If you have a particular passion outside the classroom, make sure you find a campus with like-minded enthusiasts.
These days you can garner so much information about a college without ever leaving your favorite chair. Brochures and the Internet are wonderful sources of facts, but the best way to truly know if you’re going to be happy at a certain college is to visit the campus. Of course, this is not always manageable, but if you can possibly arrange a visit, do it! Try to visit during term time to get a real feeling of what campus life is like. Can you picture yourself here for the next four years, or does it feel uncomfortable and foreign? You may want to bring a friend or even a parent for objective feedback.
The reasons for choosing one school over another are myriad, but one pitfall to studiously avoid is basing your decision on where your friends are going. Worse yet, enrolling in a school because that’s where your boyfriend/girlfriend has decided to go. Your friends and loved ones are very important, but they should never be the deciding factor for where you will attend university. Choose your school based on what is best for you, not on your attachment to others.
Of course, the final decision lies with you, but spend the next few weeks talking it over with people who know you. Ask your teachers, school counselors and, definitely ask your parents what they think. Seeing as they are probably going to be providing most of the financial backing for this great venture, you really need to include your parents in the process. As a family you will want to look at costs, financial aid offers and scholarships. While top private universities like Harvard and Columbia are enticing, their fees could be prohibitive for some. If this is your case and if you manage to ignore the lure of Ivy League and consider other alternatives, attending a top public school (otherwise called the “Public Ivies”) like University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, or University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among many others, you can save yourself (and your parents) hundreds of thousands of dollars. Knowing that you will not spend the bulk of your working life paying off college debts can be a strong persuader when choosing a school.
The decision is tough. However, there is something good to be said about it… The schools that accepted you most surely found that you have a great fit with their environment and what they had to offer. So it’s mutual, you like them and they like you; they think you will be successful there, that’s why they accepted you. This is a great start. At this point, you are ahead and there is a great chance that you will thrive in the next step of your life, if you have the right attitude towards your studies and making the best out of this opportunity.
With great deliberation and endless discussion, you will eventually whittle your choices down to one. If you are like most students, once you have accepted your place at a college, you will wonder if you really made the right choice. The answer is, ‘yes’! Oh sure, there will be bad days, and classes you hate, and boring professors, but you will find these annoyances wherever you go. By the time you have selected your place of study, you will have given it serious thought, spent hours in self-reflection, spoken to people who count, and weighed your options. Pat yourself on the back. You have followed all the right steps towards making an educated decision and now you are ready to go make the next four years the best experience of your life.
1 Mayfield, Julie and Lindsey. 7 Tips to Make a College Decision as a Family. USNews.com (24/03/12)