It’s the end of March and if you applied to appropriate colleges you should have several acceptances sitting on your desk. That’s great. But how do you decide where to actually attend? Here are some things to think about.
1. What college best meets what I am looking for in a college?
What do you really want from the college experience? Which one of the colleges to which you have been admitted best meets those interests? Now is a good time to forget about the “prestige” of a college. If you were admitted to a college that you consider prestigious you can always say you were admitted. It shouldn’t be a reason to attend.
2. What is it going to cost me to attend the different colleges?
Now that you have your financial aid awards, sit down and compare them. Make sure that you are comparing apples to apples, however. Compare how much you are receiving in grants or scholarships from each college. That is the free money and the more you get the better. How much is each college offering as a loan? Loans have to be paid back eventually so the less the amount of loans, the better.
Finally, what is the total cost for you to attend each college. One college may be giving you $3,000 more in scholarship money but if the cost of the college is $10,000 more than another college, that extra $3,000 really doesn’t make up the difference. What you are looking for is which college costs you the least amount of money out of pocket each year.
3. What is the college’s 4 year graduation rate and retention rate?
You are attending a 4 year college so it would seem to make sense that you would graduate in 4 years right? Unfortunately, at most colleges in this country that is not actually what happens. You want to know what percent of students actually graduate in 4 years. If you have to take more than 4 years of college to graduate you will be paying more for your college experience and it will take you longer to get into the work place where you can actually make money.
A colleges retention rate is how many students start as freshman that return for sophomore year. The higher the percentage the happier the students are and the less likely that you will need to transfer to another college. While many students do transfer there are many reasons why it is generally not in your best interest.
4. What should I do if my favorite college isn’t the cheapest option?
In an ideal world your favorite college would be the cheapest option and have the highest 4 year graduation rate and the highest retention rate. If that is the case for you, great. You have found your college.
But what if your favorite college is the most expensive? What if the cheapest is the one you only applied to be make your parents happy?
Now you need to have a serious conversation with your parents about the cost of college and why you prefer a college that may not be the cheapest. There are no easy answers here but the best answers often involve some compromise both on your part and on your parents part. Is there a summer job you can take that you don’t like but that would make extra money? If you look at it seriously you may find that your second choice college really isn’t that different from your first choice.
In my experience, if the student did their homework in choosing a list of colleges and considered how different colleges handle financial aid, the choice of which college to attend is not as difficult because the colleges are similar and the financial aid packages are similar.
If you weren’t careful in choosing which colleges to apply to last fall, choosing a college can be a very difficult process for all concerned. It’s too late to do anything different if you are deciding on which college to attend.
But if you are a junior or younger reading this post, please make sure you give serious thought to college selection before applying. It will make your life much easier in the long run.