Choosing a college is about more than the name on the diploma. Where a student goes to school touches numerous aspects of his or her life, from academic studies to social activities and beyond. Considering the importance of this decision, prospective students should think carefully about where they decide to enroll when looking over their options. Accepted to several of your top-choice colleges? That’s an enviable position to be in – though it might not feel like it. Follow these 6 steps to help you make a college decision
- Develop your short list.
A lot of thought should go into developing a short list of schools you would like to attend. But what kind of factors should drive your thinking when crafting that list? Brennan Barnard and Rick Clark, authors of “The Truth About College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together,” urge students to think about location, enrollment size, majors and programs, the people on campus, opportunities outside of the classroom, cost and selectivity.
2, Rank your priorities.
Take time to make your own rankings, weighing the pros and cons of a particular school when you are working on choosing the right college. Carefully consider your wants and needs when thinking about where you’ll spend the next four years or longer. One way to do this, write Barnard and Clark, is to create a list of those wants and needs.
3. Don’t procrastinate.
Deadlines may vary depending on the institution, but applications typically are due by January for regular fall admission. Experts suggest getting started on the application process by the start of your senior year in high school. And plan plenty of time for college visits, taking standardized tests, writing essays and asking for letters of recommendation.
4. Go back to schools.
Once applications are in, it’s time to think hard about where you want to attend, which may prompt another visit. While you should have gotten a feel for campus life during initial college tours, take another trip to each school and ask 10 to 15 detailed questions, says Bob Roth, author of several books on college success. Know what to ask on a college visit, and don’t leave with any questions unanswered. But taking a campus tour can be expensive, considering travel costs. If a return trip is out of the question, take a second look at the campus via a virtual tour and reach out to college officials with any follow-up questions.
5. Delve into departments.
College rankings can be one tool in the decision process, but don’t forget that academic prestige can be examined on a smaller scale, too. Research the departments you’d be studying in, Roth says. Is one school better known for your major? Are faculty actively engaged at school and in the field? Visit college websites and reach out to faculty for more information. U.S. News also ranks specific undergraduate programs in business and engineering.
6. Compare financial aid awards.
If you’re looking to graduate from college with little or no debt, carefully compare financial aid packages. It’s wise to look beyond the tuition and see what other fees apply. Also, understand the difference between free money – such as grants and scholarships – and loans, which you’ll have to pay back eventually. Some colleges offer generous financial aid packages meeting full financial need, meaning those students are not required to take out loans.