March is an important month for high school seniors: by the end of it, most students will know which colleges admitted them and which didn’t. Students may know April 1 as April Fool’s Day, but, it is also the date by which many colleges release their admissions decisions. Students then have until May 1 to decide which college they will attend and to submit a deposit.
Assuming you get into more than one college, you will be faced with the prospect of deciding which one to attend. This may be a very difficult decision; for many teens, it’s the biggest decision of their lives thus far. Here are some tips to help make this task less daunting.
- Review your research. Hopefully, before you decided where to apply, you did a considerable amount of research and took thorough notes. Now it’s time to look back at those notes. What programs and services does each college offer that appeal to you? Do all the schools have the major(s) you’re interested in? If you’ve changed your mind about your intended major since you applied, do the colleges offer the major you now plan to pursue? What are the retention rates, graduation rates, and job placement and/or graduate school acceptance rates at each college?
- Visit/reflect on previous visits. If you haven’t already visited, doing so now is a must! Many colleges have special programs in April for admitted students, so take advantage of those. If you’re a low-income or minority student, some colleges will pay your travel and/or lodging expenses so that you can come to campus. Review the notes you took during your visit (you did that, right?), but also consider how you felt while you were there. Could you picture yourself attending that school for four years? Did the college seem like a place where you could be successful and happy? Were professors, students, and staff friendly to you? Did you get the sense that there were students with whom you could be friends?
- Talk with current and former students. Students are your best source of information about a college. If you know anyone who goes to the schools you’re considering or who recently graduated, reach out to those individuals. Go beyond your own network and ask your friends, parents’ friends, teachers, coaches, etc. if they know anyone who attends/has attended the colleges you’re thinking about. Many high schools keep track of where their graduates go to college, and your counselor might be able to put you in touch with alumni at various schools. If you can’t personally connect with any students, check out a website like niche.com, which has student reviews of colleges. Just be sure to take those reviews with a grain of salt since they’re from people you don’t know.
- Discuss finances with your parents. For many students, the college decision comes down to money. Compare your financial aid offers to see which college’s offer is best. Keep in mind that grants and scholarships are the best sources of aid because, unlike loans, they don’t have to be paid back. Also be sure to consider the total cost of attendance at each college when evaluating your financial aid awards. Note that some colleges are willing to negotiate, so if you prefer College A but College B has given you a better offer, it doesn’t hurt to call College A’s financial aid office and ask if the school can do anything more for you. If your family’s financial situation has changed since you applied for financial aid, be sure to let colleges know, because you may qualify for more money.
Following these suggestions should help make your college decision easier. And if all else fails, you could do what some of the Iowa precincts did during the recent presidential caucus: flip a coin! (Just kidding.)