Congratulations! Now What?

So you’ve been accepted to college. Maybe even more than one college. So…now what? Okay, first things first – get excited! Have a celebration of sorts. Eat your favorite food. Take a night completely off. Be proud. Getting accepted to colleges is no easy feat.

Okay, you’re back. Good. I hope you enjoyed your party. Now it’s time for the hard part. Where to go? Here are some important things to consider when making your college decision:

Financial Fit
(Note: This a VERY condensed version of how to compare financial aid packages. More comprehensive information will come in the following days.)

Look at the total cost of attendance for each institution. Cost of attendance means the tuition, fees, and room and board minus any grant aid you received. For instance, if Columbia University costs $55,000 per year and you received $20,000 in grants, your cost of attendance would then be reduced to $35,000 per year. Next, look at how much your family is willing to contribute and how much you as an individual can realistically contribute to your education. Remove all schools whose costs of attendance exceed what you and your family can reasonably afford. If a school is slightly out of reach, small loans can help bridge this gap, but be very wary of taking on debt. Finally, consider future plans. For example, are you certain you want to attend law school? If your parents are able to contribute $80,000 to your college education, it may be judicious to select a less expensive school and save some of that money for graduate or professional school.

Academic Fit

Consider here both your academic interests and personal learning style. Obviously, if you are certain you want to major in Environmental Science, make sure you are looking at schools that have Environmental Science programs. Less obviously, if you are unsure of what you want to do or you just have a broad range of interests, a liberal arts college may be a great academic fit. Liberal arts colleges emphasize academic exploration, interdisciplinary learning, and intellectualism as opposed to a more vocational program that tracks students into different career paths. On a more personal level, consider how you learn best. Do you prefer learning through discussion or lecture? Do you require the ability to discuss questions and concerns with professors regularly? Small schools tend to give students much more personal attention, though larger schools may have more resources.

Social Fit

Different colleges can have vastly different social climates. At some colleges, partying three or more nights a week is the norm and most major social activities center around sports and Greek life. Other schools like Brigham Young University have strict drug and alcohol policies grounded in the Mormon faith and thus student life tends to be very spiritually centered. Most colleges fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. The best way to deduce if a college is a good social fit for you is to spend the night with a current student. While not a foolproof method, it can give you a sense of the ebb and flow of the institution. Another great resource is a site like College Prowler, where hundreds of students post reviews of their colleges. Again, not a foolproof system, but it provides more accurate information than the college website. Don’t be afraid to talk to current students and ask them tough questions. Most students are excited to talk about their college experiences and will feel comfortable being very honest. If you don’t know of any current students, contact the admissions office and most will happily pass along some names and email addresses.

Extracurricular Opportunities

Are there types of groups that you are dead-set on joining once you get on campus? Scan the list of clubs and organizations on the college website and see if any jump out at you. If you are really passionate about urban education, for example, a school with a “Students for Education Reform” chapter might be a great place for you to express and cultivate your interests.

Career/Graduate/Professional School Placement

Particularly in this economy, postgraduate security is very important. Many schools will publish statistics about graduate and career placement. These can be good places to start, but they can be misleading. Schools will do whatever they can to manipulate their numbers to look as favorable as possible. The best way to gauge a school’s graduate placement programs is to talk with Career Services and the graduate school counselor. They will be able to give you a sense of the schools resources regarding networking, preparation, internships, and graduate/professional school admissions.

Location

Some students want to stay close to home while others are adamant that they would like to be as far away as possible. Some are in love with the mountains, while others cannot imagine being anywhere but on the beach. Location is an important factor in making your college decision. When considering how much weight location carries, consider the pros and cons of going to school close to home. Pros are that traveling to and from is very easy. If you want to get home for a weekend, you can. If you left something at home, a parent can drop it off at school. However, benefits of going to school far from home include getting to live in a radically new place. Also consider whether a school is located in a city, a town, or rural area. A school in a city will have lots of different activities and networking opportunities. However, many times campus life is minimized and a bit more chaotic. A rural school provides a quiet space for learning and reflection but some students can feel isolated and trapped by the lack of activity off-campus. While location usually should not be the deciding factor in where a student decides to attend college, it can certainly play a role in quality life.

Hope this gives you enough to think about! We will be expanding on all of these points in the coming weeks.

Got any questions? Leave us a comment.