By the time all of the mail is open and the admission decisions are in, you should have options—quality options. There might be two or three—or, if you’re lucky, half a dozen. If that’s the case, congratulations! Your hard work has paid off and you get to make the final choice of a college destination.
Choosing well, however, is critical to the experience you will have once enrolled. Now, more than ever, you need to be attentive to the details. As you enter the final phase of decision-making, start by rechecking your priorities
. What was important when you initially constructed your list of colleges? Has anything changed? Why? The answers to these questions will be your compass as you make decisions in the coming weeks.
The elements of a good college fit
apply now more than ever. Even the “best” college (by acclaim) won’t help you reach your goals if getting through four years at that school is likely to be a struggle academically. Choose wisely. Stay within your ability to comfortably embrace the academic programs and achieve the educational goals you set for yourself.
Using your priorities as a guide, take another look at the colleges that accepted you. You have until the end of April to choose one of them. Return to their campuses where you can immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and overall culture of the places. How do they feel to you? In doing so, try to accomplish the following:
- Spend a weeknight in a residence hall, eat at least two meals in the dining facilities and go to two classes in different disciplines including an introductory first-year class.
- Talk with professors from the academic departments that interest you as well as the appropriate pre-professional advisor for those programs. Do you see a home for yourself in those environments?
- If you are a recruited athlete, visit with the coach as well as members of the team. These folks may be your support system for the next four years. Where will you fit best?
- If you have academic support needs, talk with the person on campus who coordinates the Special Needs Support Center or the Writing Center. Look for evidence that you will get the support you require.
- If you have financial concerns, make an appointment with the financial aid office. Take copies of your financial aid application as well as any relevant tax returns for reference. Don’t assume that troubling financial differences will be worked out later.
- Hang out. Watch people. Listen to them talk. Ask them what they think about campus life, politics, sports, religion, or whatever is important to you.
- Inquire about safety information, crime statistics and campus escort programs.
- Use good judgment as you explore the social scene. Know your limits…
In other words, take in as much as possible. It might be tough because you’ll also have to juggle academic and social demands at school. On the other hand, the choice of a college is one of the most important decisions you will make in your lifetime. In the end, you can only choose one college! Do what you can to make sure you get it right the first time.
Most students who emerge from this process acknowledge that much of the decision-making comes down to a gut feeling. Let your gut go to work for you. Make sure the college you choose fits comfortably and feels good before you commit yourself.
Finally, a word of caution. As the good news begins to arrive, your life will change instantaneously as colleges roll out the “red carpet.” You’ll be invited to parties and open houses in your honor. Prominent alumni will call to wish you well. Some schools may even offer to fly you to their campuses for the weekend. In the midst of all the ego food being tossed your way, however, you need to stay focused. Do your own detective work and remain true to your priorities. Much of the stuff that goes on over the six weeks prior to your enrollment decision is staged by colleges for your benefit. And that’s fine. Just make sure you sort through the excitement to find evidence that the school in question truly values you for what you do well.In the next several weeks, I will be conducting two Best College Fit™ (BCF) Web-Side Chats webcasts to help students with the final choice of a college. On March 24 (7:00 PM ET), the Web-Side Chat, “Strategies for Evaluating Enrollment Options,” interprets your options while revisiting the priorities—and values—that have gotten you this far. The topic outline for this webcast includes:
- Behind the decision-making (with the decision-makers!)
- The possible admission outcomes
- You’ve been admitted: a check-list for decision-making
- Dealing with the Wait List
- The “late” application
The April 7 (7PM ET) Web-Side Chat, “Evaluating Financial Aid Options,” examines cost as a factor in your final choice of a college. What are the net costs associated with attending each college? How do the financial aid awards compare? Unfortunately, financial aid award letters are not very clear on either account. This webcast uses the following outline to bring clarity to the process and enable you to compare “apples to apples” in assessing financial aid awards.
The final choice of a college will be instrumental in determining the success you experience over the next four years. Choose well to give yourself the best chance to learn and grow!
- What is financial aid?
- Interpreting the financial aid award letter
- Identifying total educational costs
- A breakdown of financial aid components
- Determining your “out-of-pocket” educational expenses
Register now at the Best College Fit Resources to participate in the next two Web-Side Chats webcasts that will guide you through the final stages of college decision-making.
Peter Van Buskirk is an author, consultant, speaker and creator of the Best College Fit™ Resources. Visit www.TheAdmissionGame.com
to learn more about Peter and his student-centered approach to college planning.