Choosing Your College: Making the Emotional vs. Rational Decision

Getting accepted into college is a great feeling for every student. But weighing the emotional vs rational decision can be a bit intimidating. Emotional and rational factors are both important to consider when choosing your college. Rational decisions are based on the facts. Emotional decisions are based on feelings. 

If you choose your college solely by looking at the facts, you’d probably just choose the cheapest one. On the other hand, if you choose your college based on your feelings, you’d probably choose the one that seems the most fun. You shouldn’t ignore your emotions when making a huge life decision, but it’s also important to not let those feelings cloud your judgment of the facts. 

Emotional Decisions

Emotional decisions you could be making when picking a college are much different than the practical ones. You could be basing your college decision on moving near (or moving in with) your partner, friends, or your family. The actual college may have nothing to do with your choice because you are basing your desire to go to that college on how you feel. Wanting to move near your friends or partner can hinder your choices but are still is important to think about. You could also feel that the college you want to go to may be a better fit because their extra curriculars are aligned with your hobbies and interests. Do you want to join student government, greek life, or be part of a sports team? 

Rational Decisions

Rational decisions are based more on facts than emotions. When making a rational decision about college you would be considering the cost of college, how much scholarship they give you, and how well their education is. If you already have a college major picked out, look up how well students with those majors do in each college. Are they able to get a higher education after their degree? Does the school offer jobs or internships for your major? Basing your entire college decision on facts and practicality will have you choosing the option that is most likely more affordable or has the best rankings for education. 

To help with your emotional vs. rational decision-making, we suggest considering and doing the following things before picking a college.

1. Visit Each College

If you have the opportunity to visit the colleges you are interested in, you definitely should. Yes, you can daydream about your favorite college but until you see it in person, you may not really know how much you’ll enjoy it — or how much you won’t. 

Visiting each college will allow you to experience the actual ambiance of each campus. While you’re visiting, pay attention to your emotions and see where you feel most connected and comfortable. Some places can induce relaxation and peace while others can make you feel anxious. Remember, you’re planning to spend the next few years of your life at this institution so go beyond the normal college tour and take your time.

You should take a look at the library, study rooms, dorms, food halls, and recreation centers around campus to get a feel for your future residence. Also, try hanging out on the campus green and watch other students as they live their college life. Evoking emotions through these experiences will show you how it feels to live and be a student there.

2. Write a Pros and Cons List

Another great way to evaluate your emotions (while still being practical) is making a pros and cons list for each college. On this list, feel free to include emotional and rational points — that way you can get a full picture of each factor. 

Making a pros and cons list is a good way to take a practical approach to an emotional decision. How does each college make you feel? What’s the best part about each college that doesn’t include the costs or academics? These are just some of the questions you can ask yourself as you’re building it out.

3. Record Yourself Talking

This may seem silly at first but recording yourself talking about each college will help you evaluate your body language. Time yourself for 2 minutes, set up your phone or camera, and talk about why you love each college. When you play it back, mute the video and pay attention to your body language to see it from a different perspective. Though it sounds odd, this really is a great way to visualize your demeanor when thinking and talking about your choices. You may light up when talking about one and seem a bit more tense talking about another. Recording yourself allows you to see your emotional responses to each institution — and you don’t have to share it with anyone! 

4. Consider Finances

The cost of college is a huge factor in your final decision and is one that is considered more rational than emotional. First, find the estimated cost of attendance for each college. Then, you can compare that amount to your scholarships to find the true cost. Also, look up the estimated rent (if you’re living off-campus) or the dorm fees for each school. When you compare all the colleges’ true costs side by side, you’ll be able to see things more rationally. 

Remember to consider which college is giving you the most scholarship money and how that affects your living expenses. Just because one college is offering you more money than another, doesn’t mean it will actually be the cheapest decision. 

The Emotional Factor is Important

When you strongly consider both emotional vs rational decision factors, you’ll be able to pick a college that’s best for you. You shouldn’t only consider the facts because you may end up somewhere you actually didn’t want to go. How you feel about a college is important and you shouldn’t ignore it. Emotional responses to physical places can help you make a better decision. Take your time when choosing a college and revisit these tips to help you narrow down your choices.


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