Seniors and parents of seniors: you are now officially (less than) one month away from the May 1st national college choice deadline day. If you are a lucky student who is weighing multiple offers of admission, read on. The tips below will hopefully help as you make that final choice.
Schedule a visit, if you can. Check your admission packet and/or online communications for information on admitted student preview days on the campus(es) of your choice. Some colleges offer all-expenses paid or low-cost visits for students with demonstrated financial need.
If you don’t have the option to visit, many colleges hold receptions in cities across the country where you can chat with admission representatives, financial aid folks, and sometimes even current students and professors. If none of these options are available to you, your region’s admission representative will likely be able to connect you to current students via phone or email. They may even be able to direct you to virtual tours.
Use your connections. So your cousin’s neighbor attends that college? Or you mom’s yoga instructor’s spouse graduated from there ten years ago? Don’t be afraid to reach out! People love talking about themselves, and they love sharing their personal college experiences. Be sure to have a few well-researched questions ready when you reach out – phone, email, or in-person are best.
Talk with your high school counselor & teachers. Chances are there are other students from your high school who have gone off to the colleges you are considering. Ask if your teachers or counselors might connect you with those former students. This can be particularly helpful as the students can speak to the transition from your specific high school’s academic and social environment to the college they attend.
Compare your financial aid and scholarship offers. This is absolutely crucial. Be sure you completely understand everything broken down in your financial aid and scholarship letter. A good financial aid letter will include the total cost of attendance (room & board, travel, books, student fees, incidentals), and not just tuition. It will also include the total loan amount, if loans are offered (Note: Avoid Parent PLUS loans if you can!). If you are awarded a scholarship, be sure you understand whether it is a one year or four year award, the terms for maintaining the scholarship, and how any additional scholarships you receive in the future would impact your financial aid package. If anything is unclear in your award, ASK!
Use LinkedIn alumni search. This is one of my favorite tools to use when helping families evaluate potential outcomes of attending X college versus Y college. Simply go to LinkedIn.com, enter the college name, and then click “See Alumni”. From there you can filter the alumni network by location, by what they majored in, by profession, and many other filters. This is a great way to see who employs graduates of that college, or what someone who majors in your field does after graduation. I also recommend checking out the college’s career center website for their own reporting on recruiting and alumni information, such as graduate school placement, average starting salaries, etc.
Ultimately, if all of the above factors are equal, go with your gut! Where do you see yourself being the most comfortable? Where are you most excited to grow over the next four years? And remember, wherever you end up, the experience is what you make of it.