After all of the hard work of college exploration and applications, how do you choose among the colleges to which you’ve been accepted? This spring, COVID-19 makes things feel a bit uncertain but many schools have extended their decision deadlines to June 1st. This gives you more time to think about where and how you want to pursue your education (but be sure to check with each college).
You can do this
In our work with students at Rock Point School, we find our students are incredibly thoughtful when the decision is truly theirs to make. Some of this is because they have spent their high school years looking at themselves clearly: they know their strengths and their vulnerabilities, and they are ready for the next experience of life that will bring them into deeper contact with their aspirations, will expand their interests, and will challenge them in new ways.
How to decide
Step #1: A cost comparison.
Your first step in considering colleges should be financial. Even for students who may have large college savings funds or grandparents paying for college, we recommend students understand the major financial undertaking that college represents and compare the financial costs of the colleges they’re actively considering.
Step #2: Visit or revisit colleges.
We break this step down into several parts listed below because paying attention to the details matters most now. During the coronavirus pandemic, you cannot visit colleges in person; however, our suggestions for how to “visit” colleges are helpful whether you can or you cannot visit the college in person. And you should always (even when visiting in person is an option) start with the virtual tours and activities that are offered. These will give you a good introduction to various kinds of information about colleges.
- Look up the courses offered in your major. (You can find a course catalogue online through each colleges’ website, or some have a link to the catalogue right in their description of the major.) Look at the REQUIRED courses. Can you do these? For example, a student several years ago chose "Cyber Security" over a different computer-related major, because Cyber Security did not require certain math courses that the student thought would be way over their head. Look at the electives courses. Do enough of them interest you?
If you are still undecided, look at the specific program that the college offers its undecided students (also sometimes called undeclared). There are some big differences between the ways that colleges approach this. Are you choosing a school that will allow you to enter one of the majors that most interest you in your sophomore year? Are there prerequisites, such as specific courses you need to take, or grades you must get in specific courses in order to qualify for specific majors?
- Check out the activities and clubs offered at the college.
These extracurriculars can be crucial for helping first-year students create good social connections, and they also often help you enhance your employment skills, and, in some cases, connections. (I got more job-related skills from my extracurriculars at college than I did from my classes. My somewhat shy nephew joined the ultimate frisbee club, so that he would have a group of folks to do things with on the weekends, without the awkwardness of having to introduce himself to people and ask people to hang out with him. Plus, he likes to run around. :-) )
- Explore the social culture of the college. Is it dominated by fraternities and sororities? sNiche, Unigo, and other college and scholarship websites can have good information––but be wary of taking any single student's comments as "the word." Remember that reviews are generally written hastily, and often in response to a high-emotion moment, so how a person is feeling in that moment of time influences the review. The most meaningful reviews will give you specific information, not just one person’s experience or opinion.
- Investigate the opportunities for undergraduates to work with professors. Are these opportunities plentiful, or do these opportunities primarily go to graduate students?
- Along the same lines, how accessible are the professors? You can often find a professor’s office hours by looking at the list of professors in a department that interests you. You can also consider whether their primary job is teaching students, doing research, advising graduate students, or other duties.
- Compare the freshman orientations at the colleges. Are there meaningful differences? Every college offers an orientation of some kind, but some colleges make orientation an experience where first-year students can really gain traction and get introduced more deeply to the resources and experiences available at the school.
- Look at what the college offers in terms of academic support services. Beyond disability support services (which you should check if you will need to apply for disability services), some colleges offer very good general academic support. If you are torn between choosing two schools that are otherwise equal in your mind, choose the one with better academic support services. College is harder than high school. It's really helpful if there's an easy way to get tutoring or organizational support when you feel (appropriately) overwhelmed.
- Consider what the college offers regarding mental health services. Most colleges offer decent but limited access to mental health support. If you have used mental health support in high school, it’s worth considering the town or area your college is in in terms of being able to access regular therapy if that can be helpful to you.
You are ready
After you’ve investigated, remember that as we have written in earlier about choosing the right college, “who you want to be matters most.” If you are still torn between several schools that accepted you, it is likely that you will thrive at any one of them!
How to Choose the Right College for the Best Future You (On the Point blog)
How to Understand Your Financial Award Letter (The College Essay Guy)
The Ten Best Sites to Search for Scholarships (USA Today)