Making Your College Decision: A Quick Guide

The decision on where to attend college may feel overwhelming right now. And that’s okay. Feeling a little nervous and uncertain isn’t always a bad thing. It means you have choices. Good choices.

As the final weeks begin to tick down to the national May 1 deadline, here are some tips to help you make your college decision:


Start with the finances

An objective indicator that can shorten your list is to compare your financial aid offers. Keep in mind you’re comparing apples to oranges to grapefruits. Private schools and public schools are going to offer very different awards based on their costs. While private schools have a higher sticker cost, when any subtracting any scholarships and grants you’re awarded, these prices are often comparable or lower than public schools.


Identify your non-negotiables

You know without a doubt you want to go to school in the heart of a large city. Or maybe you want more of the classic “green quad” experience. That specialized major only offered at one school is calling your name. You probably have many criteria you’re evaluating. I recommend making a list of three things that a school absolutely needs to have. Whether it’s location, academic programs, student life, or some other must-haves, this can help make the college decision a bit easier once you know which schools offer what you’re looking for.


Understand a school’s outcomes

A lot of attention is paid to a school’s admit rate, but there are other numbers that are more important than how selective a school is. Understanding a school’s retention rate, graduation rate, and graduate placement rate can identify the schools that practice what they preach during the recruitment process. You want to be sure the investment you and your family are about to make is going to support you long after you complete your degree.


Take a trip to campus

With all things equal, you’ll likely know where you’re meant to be when you step on campus. There will be a flutter in your stomach. Something makes your heart race. The community welcomes you. You see yourself finding a sense of belonging. You connect with a faculty member. Whatever that moment may be, you’ll know it when you feel it. It’ll be sudden. Maybe it happens at the school you didn’t expect. Don’t underestimate your gut. It’s telling you to pay attention.


And most importantly, always remember…


Where you go does not define you

Whether you already deposited at your first-choice school or are holding out hope on being taken off the waitlist somewhere else, where you go to college does not define who you are. You define yourself. College should be a time of growth, discerning your life’s passions, and establishing a sense of your place in the world. This is the time to find yourself, your people, and the type of person you want to be. You’re the one in control of your college experience. Own it.

–Robert Cusella, Assistant Director