This is the end of a long road for applicants. Students have spent the past three (or more!) years sifting through hundreds of schools, visiting dozens of campuses, and conquering an avalanche of admissions essays. They have been crossing their fingers and toes so hard for the past few months, their limbs are just now coming back to life. It’s finally time to let the steam out of the pressure cooker. As schools deliver their divine decisions, the task of deciding which of the available options to pursue, begins. Students have added many new skills to their arsenals throughout the application process, and now they get to add one more – the art of measured deliberation – as they tackle the question, “How do I decide?”
Making an informed choice is not as hard as it initially might seem. Whether students realize it or not — they have already prepared for this. My team and I spend a lot of time working with students on detailed supplemental essays that explain why any given school is a good fit for them and vice versa. Dig up those essays along with any notes you may have taken on your campus visits. Remind yourself of the specific reasons each school you were accepted to initially made it onto your list. Now look more closely at elements like majors and special programs, faculty and location. You likely considered many these factors as you decided where you wanted to apply in the first place, but now is the time to compare and contrast. Write down as many defining qualities about each school as you can think of and see which college starts to pop off the page. You already did the homework – now reap the rewards of your research and refresh you memory.
1. For many students (and parents) assessing any financial aid packages offered to you by your top options will also be critical. Will you be incurring debt by attending any of the schools on your list? If so, how much? Find a student debt calculator online and begin to wrap your head around what it means to take out student loans and how long it may take to pay them back. Then compare the packages offered to you by each school. A college’s financial aid office should be able to help you answer questions about what is and isn’t covered in your offer. These calculations can be confusing, so don’t be afraid to call as many times as you need to for clarification.
Additionally, if you already know you aspire to attend grad school, business school or medical school, you may want to take into account that you may be accruing yet another degree’s worth of expenses when you’re finished with undergrad and plan your spending accordingly. Instead of sinking your money into a top-tier private (and expensive!) university, you may want to take full advantage of financial aid and scholarships and shoot for the big-name schools when pursuing your masters.
2. Something else worth thinking about as you ponder your options: Have your goals shifted since you began your college search? Have your priorities changed? Check in with yourself now, today, and try not to rope yourself in. Also, trust your gut. Forget about where your friends are going or where your parents want you to go; and forget about those useless school rankings. Where will you have the resources and inspiration you need to explore and excel? It isn’t always at the school with the “best reputation.” Go beyond the surface and consider what you truly want out of your college experience.
3. Finally, don’t overthink things. The application process was stressful enough. Don’t get too wrapped up in the stress of decision-making. There is a home for pretty much anyone on any given campus — you just have to be willing to seek out your place. And if you really feel like a school is not a great fit for you, transferring is always an option. No matter what, college is going to be a learning experience. So make that choice with confidence and embrace the adventure. You’re ready.
Stacey Brook is a writer, admissions expert, and the founder and chief advisor of College Essay Advisors, an education company that offers online courses and in-person college essay advising to students around the world. Brook has over a decade’s worth of experience and teaches the Supplemental Essay Writing course at nytEducation: The School of The New York Times. She has helped more than 1,000 students build lifelong writing skills while crafting compelling and effective admissions essays.