You may have already made that decision a while ago. If so, congratulations! But if you're still struggling to choose between two schools, or three schools, or seven schools or however many, then you may be looking for some help.
At this point, I'm assuming that money probably isn't the issue. If you're stuck choosing between a school you can afford and a school you can’t afford, then you're not really struggling to decide...you're just procrastinating. I'm also guessing that if you're still struggling to decide, then a simple "make a list of pros and cons for each school" is something you've already thought of and found unhelpful. Still, if you haven't checked a school's vital stats lately--graduation rate, rate of sophomore return, student-faculty ratio--then go back and look those over.
(If you've been waitlisted at your top-choice school, read my advice here.)
If you’re having trouble, go back over your college mission statement carefully. Decide how many separate factors are a part of it, and then see how many of those factors are met by each school. The one that comes closest to meeting all your factors is where you should go. If you haven't yet made a mission statement, it's not too late.
Maybe there's a school that you would like to consider, but it's a little outside your comfort zone. Perhaps it's farther away than you want to be, or larger than you'd want. Maybe it's an all-girls school, or a military school, or will make it your first time being in a minority. Go to that school. You like it well enough that you applied, and they like you well enough that they accepted you. The fact that it's a little outside the norm for you is exactly why you should go there. This isn't the time to play it safe or delay pushing yourself.
I'd like to throw out a few other things you should research before choosing a school. I seriously doubt any of these factors are going to be The Deciding Factor. However, if you end up just "going with your gut feeling" on April 30, these are some things that may end up affecting your gut feeling.
What is the average daily temperature on September 5, January 10, March 15, and May 30? We all know, in general, that it's colder up north and warmer down south. But you'll want something more specific than that. What is the weather likely to be on your first day of class in fall, the first day of class in the spring, Spring Break, and the last day of class?
How much it will cost to get there and back? How long will it take? If you will be driving from home to college, how long is the drive? Will you need to stop overnight? How much gas is that going to take? (More on gas soon.) If you fly, how long is the flight? Are there non-stops, or do you take multiple flights? How expensive is that? How likely--and possible, even--is it for you to visit home during the year? How important is that to you?
The only ranking that matters at this point: is the school on the list of Top Party Schools? Every year Princeton Review ranks the top party schools. They also rank "Stone Cold Sober Schools," which is the opposite. Party sounds fun and positive, but keep in mind the way that these schools are ranked:
Schools on the "Party Schools" list are those at which surveyed students' answers indicated a combination of low personal daily study hours (outside of class), high usages of alcohol and drugs on campus and high popularity on campus for frats/sororities.
If they were to re-title the list "schools with the most drunks who don't study" would it sound so fun and exciting?
Compare the size of the campus to the size of its home town. For example, Boston University, University of Southern California, and University of Louisiana at Lafayette have similar numbers of undergrad students. B.U. is in a city of almost 700,000, U.S.C. is in a city of almost 4 million, and Lafayette has around 127,000 people. Those are very different contexts. Unless you want to spend all your time on campus, that context matters.
How diverse is the school? What's the racial/ethnic breakdown? How much of the student body comes from out of state? How much of it is international? How important is it to you to have a chance to study and learn with people who are different than you and have different backgrounds? Don’t just look at the student stats, either. Peruse the university websites to see the professors in your likely major.
What will your tie-breaker be? If you just cannot decide between two schools, what will you use to make a decision? Most people would use price, but what if they both cost the same? Will you choose the closer school? The larger school? The one whose basketball team has a better record? Seriously, thinking now about how to break a tie can help you understand a little better what your priorities are, and that can go a long way.
However you decide, once you've decided, really commit. Donate all your free college t-shirts you got on visits and college fairs--even of the school you chose. Buy yourself a new t-shirt (or sweatshirt or bumper sticker or keychain) to make the symbol more meaningful. If you're still a member of any discussion boards or online groups for schools other than the one you choose, get off them. Throw away or recycle all the marketing materials you've collected. Delete all the marketing emails. You’ve made your choice. It’s a good choice. Now own it and enjoy.
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Photo by Zoe Herring.