National Decision Day (May 1) is fast approaching, which means the pressure is on for high school seniors who haven’t committed to a school yet. For some people, choosing a college is an easy decision, but others may be stuck deciding between several acceptances. Here’s a list of the most important things to keep in mind when deciding on a college.
1. Can you afford it?
This may be the least exciting thing to think about when deciding where you want to go to college, but it should be the first thing on your mind. You don’t want to get excited about a school only to realize you won’t be able to attend because you can’t afford it. But don’t give up right away if the price seems too high. There are plenty of ways to get a little more scholarship money if your dream school is just out of reach financially. Begin by contacting the school’s financial aid office. If the financial aid packet that you were offered is smaller than you expected it to be, your school may offer you a bit more money if you make a compelling case for outstanding circumstances. If a school seems very interested in you, they might be willing to adjust your financial aid to match what was offered to you by other schools.
Definitely reach out to your guidance counselor as well. There are many local scholarships available that can’t be found on the internet that your guidance counselor may be aware of. I would also suggest looking into ways to reduce the cost of attendance at the specific school you’re interested in. For example, consider living in low-cost housing, themed community housing that is based on merit of some kind, a reduced-cost meal plan, renting rather than purchasing textbooks, applying your AP credits to classes, and applying for a work-study position or job on campus. These little changes can potentially reduce your cost of attendance by a couple thousand dollars and, when combined with other scholarships and financial aid, can make college more affordable.
2. Don’t be blinded by a big name
If you were admitted to a “big name” school, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right one for you. Visit the campus if you can, read about student life, and research relevant courses for your potential major for all of the colleges you were admitted into. Look into post-grad job placements for your major too. Name-brand schools may not have recruiters come to campus for your major, but a lesser-known school could. If all of these qualities of the school don’t appeal to you, then it probably isn’t the right college for you.
3. Location, location, location
If you’re stuck deciding between various schools, it will most likely come down to location. Whether you envision yourself in a college town, a large campus, or somewhere with no clear campus at all, you have to consider where you want to spend your free time and in what environment you’ll feel most comfortable. Being away from home can be exciting—but will it still feel that way by the end of the semester?
Although college can be fun, it’s not supposed to feel like a vacation. You’re essentially building a path for your career and future life. That being said, think about where you envision yourself in the future. For example, do you see yourself as a movie director or screenwriter? If so, then it’s probably best for you to attend a school in or around cities that are major players in the entertainment industry. Be strategic. If it’s beneficial for your future career to do an internship in New York City, this would be easier if you attended a school in the Northeast. Being closer to your potential internship site will help you secure cheaper and more conveniently located summer housing options at local universities, making your experience more successful.
4. What can the school offer you?
Does the school have professors who work at companies that interest you? Does it have an internship program that can help you or dynamic work-study options? Look into special programs for your potential major. Some of these programs may offer the opportunity to attend all-expenses-paid leadership conferences to network. They may also have partnerships with national and international universities so you can receive degrees from both. New York University, for example, offers a special program for Media, Culture, and Communications majors where you study abroad for two consecutive semesters in Paris or Prague and Shanghai or Buenos Aires, and seniors spend spring break on a free trip to one of their other global sites. Think ahead to your postgraduate goals. How can this college help you achieve them?
5. Go with your heart
After taking all of the above into consideration, ultimately go with what your heart tells you. Think about what school gets you excited about going to college and what school you can’t get out of your head. If one school comes to mind, that’s probably where you’re meant to go.