Last Updated: Jul 21, 2020
From the first day of of your senior year classes, you’re probably already excited for spring—but not just because it means the end of the school year and the beginning of summer. Springtime also means college decision time, and it brings with it college acceptance letters. Hopefully you get what you asked for—fat envelopes and multiple admission offers! But what if you have no clear frontrunner? Maybe you had two “top” choices and were accepted to both. Maybe your previous first choice is overshadowed by a better financial aid package at another school. The situations vary wildly from student to student, but there are several things soon-to-be freshmen can do to narrow down their choices.
After you receive your acceptance letters, it’s the perfect time to pull out those college brochures, revisit your notes about each university, and make your final reviews of your scholarship and financial aid awards.
Colleges expect responses, and you should try to make your final decision by May 1 (the universal acceptance date) at the very latest. You should also avoid making multiple deposits; doing so only prolongs the decision-making process and can leave you more conflicted than before. By buckling down and forcing yourself to make the tough decision, you can truly commit to your new school, invest in building relationships there, and start planning for your freshman year. That often starts with fully considering what you want from your college experience. Then you can select a college or university that makes you feel both comfortable and excited to attend.
If you are on the fence about a particular school, take one more look. Attend accepted student events or pre-orientation programs. They often offer more than just a campus tour; they allow you to meet your fellow classmates, talk with professors, and get all of your academic questions answered. Be sure to stop by the residence halls, check out the dining facilities, and visit other student hangouts, especially if you didn’t get a chance to see them during any previous trip to the school. Truly, trust your gut; when you first step foot on the grounds, how did you feel? Sometimes, just wandering around campus one more time can really put your mind at ease about your final decision. You can also stop and ask other students on campus—not your tour guide—what they like about their college experience and see if their answers encourage you to enroll.
Review your awards
Cost is usually one of the most important considerations in the college search. Differences in tuition, fees, scholarships, and financial aid awards can be overwhelming. But just take it one step at a time. Gather all of your financial aid and scholarship awards together. Review the bottom line for each school. Be sure to factor in whether or not you will be living on campus and/or working while in school. Consider travel costs and if the schools will provide you with laptop computers, etc. If your dream school doesn’t have financial aid package you need, contact their financial aid or admission offices to discuss your options.
Examine program requirements
Look carefully at your intended academic program, if you have one, to see what core classes, requirements, and other mandatory elements you need to complete in order to graduate. For example, most majors require that you take specific courses, like a foreign language or higher-level math course. Decide if you can stay on the required path and if you’re likely to graduate in four years in your chosen field of study. See what you can find out about the professors in that department too; it’s important to know if they will be the ones doing most of the teaching or if they rely on graduate-level teaching assistants. Are they available to answer questions? Do they support their students? See if you can arrange an informational meeting with one or two of the professors; they will likely be happy to talk about their programs and the opportunities therein. If you like the faculty you meet, your college experience will only be enhanced.
Make a pro/con list
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book for a reason. Creating a list of each potential college’s pros and cons can sometimes help you reach your final decision. Ask your parents, guidance counselors, and other mentors for their thoughts as well. Sometimes an outside perspective can help you think of something that will drive your decision, and discussing your options with your family is important. That being said, including too many people in the decision process can become overwhelming! Only consider the opinions of those you really trust.
After all the reflecting, discussing, and soul-searching, here are some additional questions to ask yourself:
- What type of setting is best suited for your success: small classes or large lecture halls?
- Does the college’s strength(s) match your own? For example, if you are really interested in business, make sure that it is not only offered at the school, but that it’s a strong program too.
- Do you want a close-knit campus community or do you need room to spread out?
- Are sports, Greek life, and tradition important to you? Does each school offer what you are interested in?
- Location! Do you see yourself in a big city, suburban, or rural campus?
- What kind of housing options will be available to you?
- Does the college have your specific academic program? Or if you change your mind, does the school offer “backup” majors that interest you?
Revisiting these and other pertinent questions can help you highlight the pros and cons of different colleges and universities, which can make your decision more clear. Once you have written down all the pros and cons for each school, do a side-by-side comparison. Just remember, if the college you really want to go to didn’t have the most pros, you might want to toss your list out and choose it anyway. Follow your instincts!
As soon as you’ve made your final decision, contact the schools you’re rejecting. That way, they can offer your spot, and any financial aid, to another student. If you’ve made personal relationships with admission officers or students at schools you’re rejecting, consider sending them a personal note thanking them for their help. It’s always good to maintain good relationships—especially if you end up transferring in the future.
If you have only one college to choose from, make sure you are committed. If you’re not sure about the school, you may want to make your deposit but ask to defer your entrance for a year. Doing so will allow you to pursue any waitlist options you might have.
After you confidently accept that offer of admission, there’s one last thing to keep in mind: don’t coast through the rest of your senior year! A college acceptance is always conditional upon your final high school transcript. If you let your grades tank or get in trouble at your school—or with the law, for that matter—your acceptance could be revoked.
Keep in mind there’s no right or wrong decision when choosing a college or university, and don’t forget that you can always transfer if the fit isn’t right. The best you can do is make an informed decision and then dive right in.
Still feeling stuck? Check out these 5 Steps to Making Your Final College Decision.