College Decision Day is the most important day for many high school students: The day they’ll choose where they want to call “home” for the next four years and where they want to get a head start on a career with a college degree. If your head is spinning right now, don’t fret! We’ve been in your shoes and we’re here to walk you through all the major stages and questions:
- How to narrow your search
- Pros and cons of different college types
- How to make a final decision
- What to do if you don't get accepted to your dream college
- You’ve been accepted. Now what?
Narrowing Your College Search
With more than 5,000 colleges in the United States, choosing the right one for you could seem like a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be at all!
The best possible way to get started is to think about what you’re looking for in a college. Close to home so you can commute, or far away so you can experience a new city? Think about what will make you happy when studying there, with opportunities to explore clubs and organizations, join sports teams or participate in events, but also what will make you successful after you’ve earned your degree. What types of programs do schools offer – or do they let you explore your interests, or design your own degree if you have not yet decided? What kind of academic support do they offer – and emotional support, too? Do they offer financial aid to help you afford your degree? Do they have opportunities to broaden your horizons through study abroad programs and to get your foot in the door with internships and networking opportunities?
Using a College Decision Worksheet will allow you to list out what you’re looking for and compare what some of the schools you’re interested in have to offer in those areas.
Pros and Cons of Different Colleges
In addition to filling out a college decision worksheet, making lists is a good start to being organized in college. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you should have a pretty good idea of what kind of place will help you thrive. Do you want a school where you can meet students from all around the world instead of the same kids you’ve been in class with since kindergarten? Do you want one where you’ll get personal attention from small classrooms? Do they have a sports team you can join? Clubs and organizations you’re interested in?
Think about all the things you want to experience in academics and college life. Even if you don’t get a chance to visit them all in person, attend as many virtual events as you can to find out what they’re like to attend. Schools should offer some kind of way to explore from home so you can get insight into what they’re like to attend.
And as much as college is an investment in your future, you’ll want to know the true amount you’ll be investing in it. Schools should provide a Net Calculator to give you the REAL cost of everything else, such as meals and housing, on top of tuition.
Making a Final Decision
Once you’ve figured out what you want out of a college, how do you know which is the right fit for you?
You need to go beyond what’s on the paper to really know if a place will feel like home. Just like you wouldn’t buy a pair of jeans without trying them on, don’t decide on a school without trying it on! Plan a trip to visit your school. Arrange to take a tour from a current student so you can ask questions about what they enjoy about the school. Take advantage of any virtual or in-person events your prospective college might offer, from an Experience Day where you might get to test-drive a program you’re interested in studying, to a virtual event where you have an opportunity to learn about the school and ask questions.
And don’t forget how important admissions representatives are to college searches. They often know almost everything about the college they work for – in lots of cases, they’re alumni of the college and can share their student perspective with you! Here’s an article on five questions to ask your rep to help you with your decision process.
When you’ve found where you want to study, you’ll know – and you’ll be able to let them know by accepting their offer in your admissions portal!
Didn’t Get into Your Dream School?
That’s disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world. Maybe it was far from home and it would have been expensive to get home to see family and friends. Maybe they wouldn’t have offered enough financial aid to comfortably attend. Your guidance counselor probably encouraged you to apply to more than one college, so revisit the ones you DID get into, taking the above advice to visit their campuses and speak with faculty and students for a better sense of what it’s like to study, work and play there.
What felt like a “safety school” at the time could end up feeling like the perfect community, full of classmates, teammates and friends who will enrich your life.
Accepted! Wait, Now What?
You did it…You got into college!
If you got into multiple colleges, practice the above advice by weighing their pros and cons on lists. Consider which one offers the most value, taking into account any financial aid included in your admissions offer letter, what kind of career outcomes the school provides its existing students and what kind of resources, from mentoring to tutoring to counseling, they can provide to help you thrive. Think about how it felt to walk on the campus – is it a place where you’ll make friends and memories to last a lifetime and find fun things to do?
If the answer is “Yes,” then you’ve made it; you’ve started building your dreams! Now you can log into your school’s admissions portal, let them know you accept their offer and submit your deposit to secure your spot as a member of their next incoming class. Then you’ll start getting all kinds of communications about o rientation, student housing and more – and you’re on your way to being a college student. Congrats!