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How To Decide Which College To Choose

All the admission decisions have been received. Financial aid award letters too. All the students hard work, commitment, and passion has brought them to this pivotal point: which admission offer should they accept? And students have just one month to decide.

Making the best college decision involves many factors, so it’s important to investigate the aspects most important to the student. Here are my recommendations to help students choose their best fit college.

Compare Costs: Use the College Financing Plan form to capture the information you need on each college to accurately compare costs.

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Visit the School in Person

Make plans to visit schools your student is considering, especially if you have never visited before. And in some cases, making a return visit can also help in the decision-making process. While visiting, speak with current students and investigate where students spend most of their time studying or just socializing – this will give your student an inside look at the school.

Choose a School with Plenty of Options for Majors

Students rarely stick with the major they choose in their first year of college, so it’s important to research how many other majors your student may be interested in and if they are offered at the schools they are considering. This will ensure that if (and when) it comes time for them to change their major, they will they have plenty of additional options at the school. Selecting a university that provides several potential majors is one way to help make sure your student graduates from school within four years.

Consider Your Student’s Personality to Make a Decision

Many people overlook their child’s personality when helping them make the final college choice. Does your student do better in smaller or larger classes?

What about their studying preferences?

Do they need more quiet time, or do they function well in a more social environment?

Guide your student through these questions and help them see their importance when making this decision.

Research if Credits Will Transfer to College

Some students may already have college-level credits from high school. It’s a good idea to ask the school which credits will transfer, and which ones they will likely have to retake.

Some schools accept AP or other college-level credits and give the student credit to take classes beginning at a higher level. Depending on the school’s policy, there may be the chance to use these credits to help graduate early (and save money), double major or just provide more academic flexibility when your student chooses classes. Understanding a school’s policy on transfer and AP credits may play a factor in your student making their final college choice – gather all the information you can.

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Ask for Advice

If your child is still having doubts about any of the schools they were accepted to, see if they can find current students to talk with. Suggest they ask their high school for the names of past students who are currently attending any of these schools. As a parent, ask friends and/or go online to local parent groups to ask other parents if they know of current students who have gone to any of the schools. Often, getting a personal viewpoint is far more valuable than anything you can find on paper. Asking for honest guidance might reveal new points they hadn’t thought of before.

Don’t Forget About Extracurricular Activities

Sports, clubs, and fraternities are important to consider as well. While education and financial aspects are critical, extracurricular activities are important for developing team building and networking skills that can be used down the road. Programs like these help students explore their interests and discover what they really love. Look for a college that represents your child’s sports preferences or talents so that the door is always open for them. Your student should be at the center of making this final college decision. After all, it is their future and happiness at stake. Using your parenting skills, however, you can help guide them in the right direction. Making the best college decision involves considering personal, financial, social, and educational preferences, and factoring them all in when your student’s final college choice needs to be made.

Examine Program Requirements

Look carefully at your student’s intended academic program, if they have one, to see what core classes, requirements, and other mandatory elements they need to complete to graduate. For example, most majors require that you take specific courses, like a foreign language or higher-level math course. See what you can find out about the professors in that department too; it’s important to know if they will be the ones doing most of the teaching or if they rely on graduate-level teaching assistants. Are they available to answer questions? Do they support their students? See if you can arrange an informational meeting with one or two of the professors; they will likely be happy to talk about their programs and the opportunities therein. If your student likes the faculty they meet, your student’s college experience will only be enhanced.

College Faculty and Administration

Students, when you think about a college professor, don’t think of them as just another teacher – they are much more than that. In addition to being a teacher, they can counsel with you about your career goals, offer you advice and learning based on their professional experience, help you develop your strengths and identify opportunities, act as a mentor, and when merited, provide you a letter of recommendation.

So, when you are choosing a college, examine the quality and experience of the professors it employs. If you already know what you are going to major in, then you should scrutinize the professors that influence and support the department you will be involved with. Visit the campus and chat with professors and speak with students currently in your program of interest about their experience. Good professors will not only provide you with a good education, but they will also provide you avenues into the real world.

Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for colleges to allow graduate students or adjunct faculty to teach classes. You should find out how many of your courses are going to be taught by tenured professors versus graduate students or adjunct faculty.

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Make a Pro/Con List

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book for a reason. Creating a list of each potential college’s pros and cons can sometimes help your student reach their final decision. Ask guidance counselors, and other mentors for their thoughts as well. Sometimes an outside perspective can help them think of something that will drive their decision. Including too many people in the decision process can become overwhelming -- Only consider the opinions of those you really trust.

After all the reflecting, discussing, and soul-searching, here are some additional questions students should ask themselves:

  • What type of setting is best suited for your success: small classes or large lecture halls?

  • Does the college’s strength(s) match your own? For example, if you are really interested in business, make sure that it is not only offered at the school, but that it’s a strong program too.

  • Do you want a close-knit campus community, or do you need room to spread out?

  • Are sports, Greek life, and tradition important to you? Does each school offer what you are interested in?

  • Location! Do you see yourself in a big city, suburban, or rural campus?

  • What kind of housing options will be available to you?

  • Does the college have your specific academic program? Or if you change your mind, does the school offer “backup” majors that interest you?

Revisiting these and other pertinent questions can help them highlight the pros and cons of different colleges and universities, which can make their decision clearer. Once they have written down all the pros and cons for each school, have them do a side-by-side comparison. Just remember, if the college they really want to go to doesn’t have the most pros, they might want to toss their list out and choose it anyway. Encourage them to follow their instincts!

Academic Reputation

Another factor the student should consider when selecting a college is the reputation of its academic department(s). Encourage and help them ask around, speak with alumni and potential employers in the industries where they want to work after graduation.

As I stated above, it’s worth repeating that students should research the program’s curriculum as well as the experience of the faculty in their intended major. Have them find out if the academic program offers hands-on experience and offers internship opportunities or helps them to find internships in their field, prior to graduation.

Available Support Services

Choosing the best fit college includes, for neurodiverse students, knowing what services the Student Disability Services (SDS) office provides and what documentation is required to apply for accommodations. Students and their parents should compare the accommodations offered by each college the student is deciding on, the experience and size of the office staff, and assistive technology available to name a few essential areas. Resources students and parents can use to find this information include:

  • College’s website – search “Student Disability Services”

  • In-person or virtual visit, email, or call SDS office

  • K & W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences

Review Your Priorities

Students, as with any major life decision, you need to go back to the core: your priorities. Why did you apply to college in the first place? What were your priorities when you began the process? How have your priorities changed? Examine all the aspects you are looking for in your college experience: academics, location, support services, a particular club or organization, cost, etc. and rank them. Which ones are the most important to you? Which ones are the most important to your family? There can be a lot of emotion tied up into making your final college choice, so it is important to keep yourself grounded by establishing your priorities.


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This blog was written Janice Royal, MA. She is the Founder and CEO of Royal College Consulting.

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