By Purvi S. Mody
For high school seniors around the country, the finish line to the long college admissions journey is just around the bend. Most if not all college decisions will be released by April 1st and then families can begin the task of choosing. For some families, that choice will be very easy. For others who aren’t sure how to decide on a college the decision will drag out until May 1st. Several months ago, when you created your college list you took many different factors into consideration and it is now time to revisit those factors.
Which schools will offer you the best academic opportunities for your interests? Evaluate the courses and majors available. Will you have trouble switching from one major to another? Beyond class assignments, are there research or internship opportunities accessible? And will you be able to talk to your professor easily or will you just be another student in the mass?
College is about more than just studying. So consider which college will offer you the most interesting extracurricular opportunities or ones where you can further perfect a skill. Are you an athlete that hopes to walk on to an intercollegiate team or play on an intramural one? Are you passionate about teaching English to non-native speakers? Do you want to further your scientific research? Do you want to study Art History in Italy or dance on a stage?
A few months ago, you might have relished the idea of being on the opposite side of the country from your family. But as you get closer to actually going away, you may be more inclined to stay closer to home. Are you excited about big-city life or do you think you prefer the comforts of a college town? Are there specific opportunities that are available only in certain areas? For example, do you love theater and desire interning on Broadway – if so New York is the place to be.
Your classmates in college will likely make up your group of closest friends. They might be the people you invite to your wedding, reach out to when you are looking for a job, lean on when times are tough, and celebrate with when life cannot seem any better. So learn as much about the student body as possible. Do students tend to focus mostly on academics? Are students incredibly laid-back or intensely driven? Do students love to party several nights of the week? Do students come from a broad range of backgrounds? Most importantly – do you think you will fit in?
Brand is a very subjective thing. I have had families bring in the list of top 25 schools and tell them they only want to apply to those – regardless of fit or their child’s academic talents and interests. And brand varies by location and program. In the Silicon Valley, programs with strong engineering and computer science programs are heralded as the best. On the East Coast, schools with the best undergraduate business programs are the most elite. Concert pianists will gravitate towards conservatories and top music programs. And those few kids that know they want to be doctors will be inclined toward the handful of very selective combined medical programs. Brand is hard to quantify, in most cases. But if the name of the school is important to you, would you be proud to say that you are attending College “X”?
Parents – this one is especially important for you. Think about the overall cost of attendance and the amount colleges have assumed you can pay after all financial aid is taken into consideration. Remember to also account for incidentals including flights home, your child’s propensity to eat out, or an expanded phone bill. If you are considering public schools where kids graduate in an average of five years, plan for the fifth year of costs and one year of your child’s lost income. And definitely take into consideration any scholarships, and perks that may come with those, for all colleges. Don’t wait to talk to the Financial Aid Office if you need your financial need reassessed.
There is no magic formula on how to choose the best college for you. While you can draw up lists of pros and cons and flip a quarter, choosing a college is more an art than a science. Choosing is going to require the right balance of instinct and rationale. Visit the colleges you are considering if you can. Talk to alumni and current students. Talk to people that know you best. And rest assured – when you make that final decision, you will be relieved that you made it through this arduous process and excited about all that lays ahead! Good Luck!
Purvi S. Mody is co-owner of Insight Education, an educational consulting firm that helps students throughout the country and internationally to achieve their educational goals. Get in touch with her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @InsightEduc.
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