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Making Your College Decision? 3 Things You Should Do When Narrowing Down Your Options

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If you were fortunate enough to have been accepted to multiple colleges, you may have a difficult decision ahead of you: choosing which school to attend. Here’s what three of our experts believe you should consider when narrowing your choices and ultimately making your final college decision.

Keep cost in mind.

Frank Palmasani, author of Right College, Right Price

Frank Palmasani

This is an exciting, as well as nerve-wracking, time of year for high school seniors and their parents as they await their college award letters. Many students are thinking, “If all expenses were equal, College A would be my number-one choice, College B would be my second, and College C would be my third.” Of course, when the award letters arrive, most families learn that not all colleges cost the same amount.

Let’s say, for example, that you discover when reading your award letters that your first choice, College A, has the highest net price—or out-of-pocket cost after scholarships, grants, and loans are considered. It costs $4,000 more than College B (your second choice) and $6,000 more than College C.

In this case, your family would have to answer one very important question prior to choosing a school: how much can you afford to spend on college? If the additional $4,000 makes College A too expensive for your family—meaning you would have to borrow excessively to cover the costs—then you would have two options: you could either appeal your award letter with your first-choice school’s admissions office to determine whether you could receive more financial aid, or choose either of the other two more affordable schools.

If, on the other hand, the net price is affordable at all three colleges, then this decision should be based on value. Is the value of the education at College A worth the extra $4,000 or $6,000?

Now you can automatically calculate the amount you can afford to spend on college before you even apply. Check out the Financial Fit™ program to learn more.


Focus on your future.

Marcia Cantarella, PhD, author of I Can Finish College

Dr. Marcia Y Cantarella

The goal in the end is to complete college. Not only do you need to complete it, but you must finish with your best possible record in order to compete in the job market (and life in general). Being sure you attend the college that fits you both academically and personally becomes crucial to that goal. You want to go to a school where you can shine in every way.

Some aspects of finding the college that fits you may seem obvious—like not going to a huge party school if you are a shy kid. It makes sense to look at the average SAT or ACT scores and GPAs of previous freshmen classes to see if your scores match or surpass those. It is fine to be slightly below the average, but you want to be in your comfort zone, too. Look for honors programs where you can stretch and stand out. Know where you can excel!

Finally, you should ask admissions officers about where graduates are now. Some questions you should consider include:

  • What percentage of the graduating classes of the past 6 years (allowing for the recent economic downturn) found jobs or went to graduate schools?
  • If alumni went to graduate schools, where did they go?
  • What career resources are available—including internships, alumni mentors, speaker programs, or ties to local businesses?
  • Are alumni still engaged in the college?

Overcome any obstacle on the path to your degree with I Can Finish College by Marcia Cantarella, PhD.


Do your research.

Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, author of adMISSION POSSIBLE

Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz

If you are unsure about which college you want to say yes to, perhaps you don’t have enough information or the information you have is incomplete. To help you narrow down your choice:

1. Do a little more research about the colleges you are considering.

The Fiske Guide to Colleges is about as good as the information gets; both students and parents rave about how accurate it is. However, not all schools are covered in the Fiske Guide, so it’s always useful to visit college websites as well. Look at the Academics page for information on your major and the Activities or Student Life page for what’s happening on campus.

2. Ask around for advice and information.

Many students forget that they have wonderful resources in the people who care about them. You might chat with:

  • Students
    Current students who attended your high school and recent young alumni of the colleges you’re considering are excellent sources of helpful information.
  • Teachers and college counselors
    Other rich resources of information about colleges are teachers, high school counselors, and independent counselors.
  • Parents, older siblings, and other family members
    Who knows and loves you the most? Family, of course! Don’t forget to check in with them to hear what their thoughts are.

3. Attend pre-admit/prospective student days and other college visits.

The most useful source of information for any student trying to decide where to go to college is the actual campus itself. Even if you have visited a college before, do it again. There is a big difference between seeing a college when you are an applicant and when you’ve been accepted.

Many colleges offer pre-admit programs in which admitted students spend a day or two touring the campus, staying in a dorm, attending special activities, and talking with professors and current students. You can also visit a campus on your own.

Students from low-income backgrounds should contact admissions offices to ask about pre-admit “fly-in” scholarships to help them with travel and other expenses.

For more admissions advice, from dealing with wait lists to making your final decision, check out adMISSION POSSIBLE by Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz.


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