Spoiled for Choice
As early as mid-December, seniors start discovering where they will spend the next four years of their life. For those who applied Early Decision (the binding form of advanced application) and got into their first-choice school, the anxiety of the college application process comes to a screeching halt. No longer is there any uncertainty about the future. Instead everything becomes clear, at least for the next four years.
For everyone else, however, even those who get into schools under Priority or Early Action plans (both of which are non-binding), the process can remain frustratingly agonizing. When you choose one school over the others, how do you know that it’s the right one? So what can you do if you are one of these lucky, yet tormented souls who is spoiled for choice?
The best thing that anyone can do in such circumstances is conduct research and make as well of an informed decision as possible. Go back to those guidebooks, websites, and online forums and see what you can learn about each school. Ask yourself some important questions, such as:
• Which school will prepare me for the kind of future I want?
• Will I have access to the types of resources as well as learning and extracurricular opportunities that I want and need?
• Can I see myself thriving there both socially and academically?
• Would I rather be challenged or take it easy and be “a big fish in a small pond?”
• Do I really want to go to school so close/far from home?
• Is prestige or fit important to me?
Think about what is truly important to you and your choice will likely become clearer.
In order to answer these questions, you may also want to visit each school again. Many colleges organize open houses for admitted students throughout the spring, which will allow you to see the campus in session as well as speak to current students, administrators and faculty about their experiences at the school. If the cost of doing this seems beyond your family’s financial limitations, contact the admissions office and let them know. In some cases, they will provide admitted students with a travel stipend to visit!
You will also want to compare financial aid packages when considering which school to attend. One of the unfortunate aspects of the college comparison process is that there is no standard form that schools use to inform families of how much they will really be paying for tuition and fees. It thus becomes difficult to determine which school has the highest out-of-pocket expenses. What looks like a great financial aid package at first glance may actually turn out to be the least favorable.
As a result, you will want either to create your own spreadsheet to compare apples to oranges, or consult the College Board’s online award comparison calculator award comparison calculator. Be mindful, however, that this tool only allows you to compare up to four different colleges and it accounts for only the most common forms of grants and loans.
Once you have gathered all of this financial, social, and academic information, weigh your options against one another. If there is no clear victor, you may even want to create pro-con list to show you your feelings about the costs and benefits of attending each school. If all else fails, keep thinking and talking about your feelings until May 1, the deadline for responding to all schools. By then, you’ll have no option but to make a choice!