By: Caroline Koppelman
Once you’ve been accepted to multiple schools the most fun part of the college process begins. You get the chance to imagine yourself as an incoming freshman and decide why you’d want to go there more than the other schools you were admitted to. If you’ve gotten into your dream-reach school and a few safeties, the choice can be easy. But often you’re choosing between a couple of great options, and it can be more than a little terrifying to definitively pick one. Sometimes people pick a school for very concrete reasons like financial aid, location, or a particular course of study. Sometimes people pick schools based off something more amorphous like the social scene or campus culture. And sometimes people decide for reasons that only make sense to them. My friend Kate picked Penn over Yale because on a night out during a college visit she met more girls dressed like her and figured that it’d be a better fit socially. She listened to her gut instinct and four years later the decision has paid off tremendously. The reality is that if you are faced with choices like Kate, or any two schools that are on par with each other, there will rarely be one indisputable reason to go.
Everyone’s reasons for picking one school over another are extremely personal. That said, here are some things that most if not all students should weigh when picking among schools.
1. What role does money play?
a. College costs have skyrocketed and can sometimes make going to college seem unaffordable. If a school is forcing you to take out huge loans, even if it is your top choice, it might be worth considering your options. If another school is giving you a substantial scholarship, even if you may not like it is much, it may be smart to attend. You will thank yourself later when you graduate debt free.
2. How important is location?
a. City vs. suburb: Do you want to be in a city? If so, do not take this lightly. If you want to be in an urban center but you got into Williams, being in a small liberal arts school in a quaint New England town might make you go crazy. Some people need the constant buzz of life and activity offered by schools in big cities, while others may be more at home at a secluded campus far from the stress of city life. While the amazing cultural opportunities offered by being at a metropolitan school may be appealing to some, you need to decide the right environment for you.
b. Distance from home: Let’s say you live in New York City and got into NYU, UCLA, University of Michigan, and FSU, you’ll want to consider how far away from home you want to be. If you cannot fathom being more than a few hours away by car, you need to take this into consideration. On the other hand, many students want to get as far away from home as possible during their college years.
3. What type of social life do you want? This might seem like a trivial consideration, but the social scene of a school greatly affects the culture. Greek life can provide large, Animal House style parties, but it can also be very exclusive. If you like more intimate gatherings and feel uncomfortable with large parties, you might not want to attend a school where Greek life is the dominant social life. While it can sometimes be hard to gauge this from the outside, try talking to current students who can offer a better assessment of what social life is like at a given school.
4. Do you know what you want to study? If you don’t, requirements may be helpful to you. Having a core curriculum can help you discover classes and majors you wouldn’t otherwise take. If you have a lifelong passion that you’re eager to pursue from day one of freshman year, a school with a less rigid curriculum is probably a better fit and will offer you more opportunities. You may resent having to make room in your schedule for classes you’re not interested in.
5. Do you enjoy having close relationships with your teachers? When you attend a large university, you won’t be able to escape huge intro classes with hundreds of students. It will be hard to form relationships with these professors because of the impersonal nature of these classes. Eventually you will have smaller classes and seminars, but your schedule freshmen year most likely won’t be filled with them. If you want an environment where every teacher knows your name, a smaller liberal arts school might be a better place for you.
6. What is the alumni relations network? Every school will have a vast alumni network that helps you to find mentors, internships, and possible jobs. But what a given school’s alumni specialize in professionally can vary wildly. If you’re hoping to work in film, a school like USC with a renowned film school just outside of Hollywood may be the best place for your professional aspirations. If all you want to do after graduation is work on political campaigns, Georgetown in Washington DC might cater better to your dreams.
7. Do companies recruit at any of the schools you’re considering? You’re only 18 but you’ve already grown tired of hearing that the job’s market is horrible for recent college grads. If you and your parents are concerned with this, and one of the schools you’ve been accepted to has On Campus Recruiting, this might be a good idea for you.
8. Where do you fall in the range for the schools? If you got into one of your reach schools, you might be inclined to immediately accept the offer. We urge you to not do this so quickly. Although it is an accomplishment to be accepted to a reach school, we have found that students tend to love their school more, excel in their classes, and be happier at schools where they are more in the median range. This is because they are not constantly struggling to keep up. We are not saying that a student can’t do well at a reach school, but a student will feel better about herself if she doesn’t have to struggle to get an A.
It can be overwhelming to balance all these considerations when it comes to choosing a school. But the most important thing to remember is to relax and enjoy it. You’ve done the hard work and now its time to reap the rewards. Spend hours getting lost in a college website, seeing everything it has to offer and envisioning whether you see yourself being happy and successful there. When it comes time to make a choice, only you can decide what is best for you.