Thousands of people are looking at college acceptances this month and trying to decide where to go. Based upon my 25 years of experience studying higher education, here are my top 5 tips.
Look very carefully at your financial aid letter. Make sure that you understand how much you are getting in actual aid versus loans they expect you to take out versus the costs they expect you to pay outright. If you are unsure about what the language means, then ask or look for help. And remember to factor in costs of travel to and from school.
About 1 in 5 students get into their first choice, but decide that it is just too expensive to go there. That’s an OK choice. My research has shown that students who attend their second, third, or fourth choice can be just as satisfied with their freshman year as students who go to their first choice.
And it turns out that what matters more than where you go to school is what you do when you are there. You don’t need to make great financial sacrifices to have a great college experience.
Not many people know this, but about 1 in 4 students do not return for their sophomore year. And, on average in the US, only about 2 out of 3 actually make it and graduate from that school. This also varies a lot from school to school. You can use the College Navigator website to find out the percentage of students who graduate and see how the schools you are looking at do in this. You want to maximize your chances of getting that diploma!
Make sure that the school you are looking at actually has the major you are thinking about. At one of the colleges I worked at every year we would get students arriving who were ready to major in business. But we did not offer a business major! Look through the majors and see, and while you are there look at other majors that are offered, as many students end up changing their major by graduation.
Some people want to go to college close to home, and others want to go as far away as they can get. Regardless, think about things like rural versus suburban versus an urban location. If you are from a big city and think it might be fun to experience the country, think again about if you would really like that much of a change while also trying to balance all the other things a college student needs to balance. Think about climate. It can get pretty cold (or hot) some places.
How did you feel when you visited the school? Saw the students there? A campus visit can be very important to help you figure out if this school is right for you, as I have previously posted. If you absolutely cannot visit, talk with students in your area who go to school there and try to find out as much as you can online about the culture at the school.
Obviously there are other things to consider, but these are good places to start when you are making this choice. And, finally, relax. Most colleges and universities are really great places to learn and live!
Good luck! It’s going to be great!