Making Your Final College Choice: How to Decide Where to Attend

How do you make your final college decision?The acceptance letters have arrived, and if you’ve been accepted to multiple colleges then you now have a tough decision to make: How do you make your final college decision?

Making this decision is part financial, part academic, part logic, and part gut feeling. There are so many factors that go into making the final college choice that it’s best to take it slowly and break down the decision into a series of careful considerations.

How important each of these factors is can only be determined by you, so before you begin to go through each one, first rank them from most-important to least-important in your decision.

Then, go through each step carefully:

1. Compare financial aid packages

Hopefully, money isn’t the only factor in your decision, but it certainly is an important one. Once you have received a letter of acceptance, you will also receive a financial aid award letter, which will detail any grants, scholarships, work-study and other aid that you may receive.

There are two ways to compare financial aid packages:

  • Calculate the bottom line of what you will owe at each school. Look at the net price, see what out-of-pocket expenses you are expected to pay now, and consider how much student loan debt you’ll need to incur over 4 years. All of these factors are very important.
  • Compare the component parts of each financial aid package. Look at these letters closely to determine how much of the financial aid offer is gift aid–money you won’t need to pay back–and how much is self-help aid, or money that comes in the form of work-study or loans.

2. Make a list of pros and cons for each school

You may have this information swirling around in your head already, but take the time to write it down with pros on one side of the page and cons on the other. There is something powerful about seeing this list in writing.

Pros and cons can be anything from cost to the cafeteria food, so think carefully about each and every aspect of the schools as you know them. You may find that one or more of your colleges really has a con that is a deal-breaker, which will make it easier for you to take that school off of your final list.

3. Visit or re-visit the campuses you want to attend

If you are going to spend 4 years and a lot of money on your education, go to great lengths to make sure you like your new home.

Most colleges will give accepted students the opportunity to visit, sit in on classes, and more. Take the time to ask tough questions, read the campus newspaper, and whatever else you can do to see the good and the bad.

Also, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with any student you run into. Remember that tour guides are trained–and paid–to sell you on the school. They would never intentionally mislead you, but it’s always good to get other perspectives on the school.

4. Stay overnight on campus

Again, most colleges will allow accepted students to stay overnight with a host. This is the best way to get a true feel for the campus dynamic. You’ll get a sense for what life will be like here, and be able to envision how your routine might look on an average day.

Staying on campus can also give you a sense of distance and convenience of campus locations–try to imagine how you would go throughout your day if you woke up each morning in the dorm. Do you have easy access to the things and places you need most?

5. Listen to your gut

All in all, choosing the right college can be a logical, methodical choice, but it can also be part gut feeling. Don’t ignore one in favor of the other.

If your gut is telling you that one college “feels” more right than another, then it’s probably worth taking the time to think about why that is. Maybe it’s the scenery on campus, the vibe of the culture, or the people you have met on campus.

Take all of these things into consideration, but do be careful not to let a “gut” feeling outweigh all of the measurable facts about a college. Find a balance and you’ll be able to ultimately make your final college decision.

Choosing a college is part art and part science, embrace both parts and good luck!

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