Tips for seniors picking colleges

If you’re a senior in the enviable position of deciding between multiple college acceptances, here are a few tips to help you make the right decision for you.

1. Remember that some uncertainty is normal.
Some students are sure about their final choice and are ready to sign on the dotted line as soon as the acceptance letter arrives. But many more are not. Some degree of uncertainty is normal for big decisions. So don’t be alarmed if you don’t feel as certain about your choice as your friends do. That uncertainty typically disappears as soon as you commit.

2. Know your cost before you sign.
Make sure you’ve carefully evaluated your financial aid award so you know the amounts of scholarships, loans, and work study you qualify for. Not all financial aid is free money, and it’s important not to get preemptively swept up in the total figure listed for the award.

3. Check your assumptions.
It’s common for families to make evaluative statements about colleges based on assumptions. Some examples:

College X is better for premed than College Y.

I should choose this school because it will offer great connections when I graduate.

This college will help me get into a good law school.

Are you able to substantiate those statements with facts, rather than opinions or hearsay? If not, then you’re working with assumptions that might be flawed. And that’s not a good way to choose a college.

4. Evaluate yourself, too.
Too many families make the final college decision based on the purported features and benefits of the college without considering if the student will actually take full advantage of them. Choosing a college is a little bit like choosing a gym. The offerings are only as valuable as the frequency and vigor with which you take advantage of them.

5. Don’t look for perfection.
Much like jobs, relationships, and families, there is no such thing as a perfect college. Every college campus has characteristics that could feasibly be improved, changed, fixed, etc. But the benefit of choosing a college that fits is that you’ll be more likely to take advantage of its strengths and less likely to be affected by or to even notice its weaknesses. Comparing supposed pros and cons between your options might help you organize your thinking, but it probably won’t guide you to a clear decision. Instead, consider the purported strengths and weaknesses. Then evaluate your ability and likelihood of leaning into the former and working around the latter.