The hoping, praying and waiting are over. Colleges have made their admission decisions, and it is time for students to evaluate their college options. If you have a clear first choice, you can send an enrollment deposit and enjoy the last few months of high school. If you have been admitted to a lot of appealing colleges, you now have the enviable problem of needing to decide which school you want to attend.
After years of doing everything they could to impress colleges, students can now let the colleges try to impress them. From now until the May 1 notification deadline, admissions officers will be pursuing newly admitted students. There will be flattering letters, e-mails and phone calls, as well as invitations to special programs for admitted students.
These local receptions and on-campus programs are designed to get prospective freshmen excited about the college. You can get a lot of information about a school at an admitted student day. There may be presentations by professors and students, as well as an activity fair, where you can learn about campus clubs and community service opportunities. You get to meet some of your future classmates. But it is important to remember that the colleges are selling themselves at these events. You are meeting the most enthusiastic students and seeing the school at its best.
Some students prefer to visit on a typical day, without all the hoopla, so that they can have a more realistic experience of life at the college. You can ask the admissions office to set up a visit where you attend classes, eat with students in a dining hall, and perhaps spend the night in a residence hall.
Even if you visited the college before you applied, it’s worth making another trip. You see a school differently after you’ve been admitted. It’s more real. You notice different things as you walk across the campus and picture yourself living there next year.
Whether you go to a special event or visit the school on your own, be sure to spend some time talking with students about the college. It is better to find out now how hard it is to get into popular classes, or that everyone goes home on weekends, or that you’ll have no social life if you don’t join a fraternity. This is also the time to talk to students in your major. How do they feel about their professors? Are they getting the advising they need? What are students in that major doing after graduation?
If any students from your high school are currently attending the colleges you’re considering, arrange to meet them on campus and ask about their experiences. Why did they choose that college and has it met their expectations? What do wish they had known when they were making the decision about which college to attend? Would they make the same choice today? Getting as much information as possible will help you make an informed decision.
Preferences can change during senior year. Look at these schools with fresh eyes. This is the time to review your personal priority list and consider what tradeoffs you are willing to make. If one school has big sports and school spirit, and another is located in a major city with access to internships but no sense of community on campus, which kind of college experience do you really want?
Students who start their college application process thinking they want to try living in another part of the country sometimes realize that they want to be able to come home for a weekend. This is the time to be honest with yourself, and if you know you are not ready to be a plane ride away from home, there is nothing wrong with choosing a school that is within driving distance. One of my students had grown up in California and always wanted to go to college in New York, but after he was admitted to Columbia, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to be all the way across the country. He ultimately chose Stanford for his undergraduate education, and plans to attend law school in New York.
Cost is another major factor in making your final decision. If your third choice college has offered a $15,000 a year scholarship, so that you would save $60,000 over four years, that college might move up to first choice. Financial considerations could be especially important if you’re planning to go on to law, medical or graduate school.
It may seem like an agonizing decision, but if you applied to colleges that are good matches, all of your choices should be good ones. There are no wrong decisions. You can be happy at any of these colleges. Once you make your decision, you will invest emotionally in that school, and it becomes the right choice.
For high school juniors who are thinking about where to apply, the key to having good college options at this time next year is to engage in a thoughtful process of self-assessment. If you focus on applying to your best matches rather than the most prestigious colleges, you should be happy with all your choices when it’s time to make your final decision.