As with many other aspects of the college process, making your final decision is an excellent way to learn a significant life skill. You will make decisions for the rest of your life, including deciding what to major in, which internship to apply for, and ultimately, what job offer to accept.
Making the final decision about which college to attend is the first in the long line of “life choices.” However, this particular decision is not the student’s alone. It is a family decision. The student is the one going to college, but the parents are the ones (generally) paying for it. So while it is important for students to follow the steps below, they also need to take into consideration the input of those around them. Student should also consider the 3 Questions to Ask When Making Your Final College Choice, which was covered earlier this week.
When it comes to making a decision, any decision, it is important to approach it in a step-by-step format. Below are the steps that can be taken in order to make the final college choice, but these steps can apply to any decision you need to make in college and beyond.
Step 1: Review your priorities.
As with any major life decision, you need to go back to the core: your priorities. Why did you apply to college in the first place? What were your priorities when you began the process? How have your priorities changed? Examine all of the aspects you are looking for in your college experience: academics, location, support services, a particular club or organization, cost, etc. and rank them. Which ones are the most important to you? Which ones are the most important to your family? There can be a lot of emotion tied up into making your final college choice, so it is important to keep yourself grounded by establishing your priorities.
Step 2: Determine your questions.
When you began the process, your priorities were general: good financial aid, strong academics, an opportunity to play sports, social campus, etc. Now is the time to get specific and find evidence to determine how each campus supports your priorities. For some families, the cost of a college education is the most important factor. Being able to compare financial aid offers side-by-side and determine the out-of-pocket cost for your family is an important component of your final decision.
If one of your priorities is “strong academics,” figure what that means to you. Do you want a campus where students are well-supported by professors? Or are you looking for more concrete numbers such as the percentage of students admitted to medical school?
If you are looking for “opportunities to play sports,” determine what type of sport. Are you looking at club sports or intramurals? What teams are available? For club sports, figure out if you have to try out for the team. How competitive is the process?
The social aspects of college are often an important priority for some students. However, you need to determine what “social” means for you. Do you need to find more information about a particular club or organization? Are there activities happening on campus that interest you? Do students go home on weekends? Is Greek life popular on campus? Determining what you need to happy socially is an important step in making the final college decision.
Step 3: Collect information.
There are many ways you can collect the answers to the questions you brainstormed above. Ideally, you should plan on visiting the final colleges on your list. Staying in the residence hall, attending an admitted student event or sitting in on a class are all great ways to gain insights.
You may also want to consider requesting meetings with other individuals on campus. Interested in a music group? Email the director. Curious about a particular major? Contact a faculty member in that department. Reaching out to individuals on campus may seem like an intimidating idea, but professors and administrators are often very open to meeting with prospective students. Just make sure if you schedule a meeting, you prepare questions ahead of time.
You should visit a college before you attend, but if you are not able to make it out for a second visit before May 1st, there are plenty of other ways to college information.
Call the admissions office and ask to speak with a current student.
Ask your guidance counselor to put you in touch with students from your high school who are attending the school.
Join Facebook groups associated with the school (specifically if there is a group for your graduating class).
Call specific departments and ask questions. Just like the statements about meeting with individuals if you are going to campus, you can accomplish the same goals by picking up the phone.
Review outside sights- but don’t base your final decision on what is posted there. Use the opinions posted to formulate your questions then use the resources above to look into any issues you find further.
The bottom line is that you need to explore EVERY aspect of the final colleges on your list. This not the time to feel like you are being a nuisance or think that you will figure it out later. ASK ALL OF YOUR QUESTIONS.
Step 4: Make a pros and cons list.
After you have reviewed your priorities and found answers to your questions, make a pros and cons list. Sometimes seeing all of the information laid out will make the answer clear.
Step 5: Make a decision, and stick to it.
After completing the steps above, you need to make a final decision. If the answer is not immediately clear, consider these techniques:
Give yourself a deadline. Stewing about the decision is not going to make it easier. By giving yourself a time limit, you force yourself to move forward.
Flip a coin. This may sound like a trivial way to make a decision, but sometimes it will reveal how you honestly feel based on the decision being made for you.
Say it out loud. Telling someone you trust your final decision (before you announce it to the rest of world) is a good way to ease into it. Saying it out loud makes it real.
Sit on it for a few days. Choose one college and then proceed for a few days as if you are a student of that college. How does it feel?
Once you have made your final decision, don’t look back. Be excited for what lies ahead and turn your focus away from what could’ve been.
Often if you are in the position of choosing between 2 or 3 colleges, there is no wrong choice. If you truly have taken the time to examine what you need to be successful in college, you will more than likely be able to make that happen at any of the colleges that were a part of your final decision process.