Decision Day: 5 tips for choosing your college

It’s National Decision Day! Every year on May 1, thousands of high school seniors select which college they want to attend and share their decision with friends, family and the social media world.

This year, many colleges have pushed their decision dates to June 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic. And with everything going on in the world today, many seniors are still feeling unsure about what their future will look like, but we’re here to let you know that you will get to take this important next step in your life. While it may look a little different than you expected at first, don’t let our current situation take the fun out of this exciting time.

There’s so much that goes into deciding where you want to go to college and now that you’ve been given extra time, take it to carefully consider some of the biggest factors in making your decision. To help guide your thinking, we put together a list of tips.

Here are 5 tips for choosing your college

Tip 1: Never lose sight of deadlines

Even with the extension some schools have provided, there may be additional deadlines you won’t want to forget. Deadlines for important things such as scholarships, financial aid, housing and athletics cannot be missed. Keep a schedule of decision dates for these details and be sure you don’t miss them – if you do, you could be missing out on thousands of dollars in scholarships, that apartment-style dorm you had your eye on or joining that team you’ve always loved.

Before you can move forward on some of these details of your college experience, you’ll have to decide where you want to go. Selecting a school in advance of deadlines will provide peace of mind and will help you avoid obstacles that can arise if you miss a deadline. Plus, the more time you give yourself for planning as you head into your first semester, the better prepared you will be for your first day of college.

Tip 2: Choose the experience that’s right for you

Every college offers a different experience and it’s important to be aware of these differences before making a choice about which college to attend. Make sure the college you select provides a comfortable learning environment with the types of classrooms you enjoy. Whether you prefer small classes where you get a more personalized experience or large classes where you are required to learn more independently.

Similarly, you should take into account campus size, athletics, student organizations and the general location of the campus. One other important thing? Take plenty of time to consider how you’ll be living. Are you looking forward to bunking up with a roomie in a traditional dorm? Is apartment living more your style? Do you prefer something on campus with an off-campus feel? If you’re planning to live on or near campus, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the place you choose. Take the time to consider all of your preferences – they’re critical to your decision.

Tip 3: Figure out how much financial support you will receive

Don’t write off any college before making sure you understand the financial resources provided by each school. At first glance, tuition rates can look scary. However, these rates can be misleading without considering the amount of financial aid and scholarships a school offers.

If a school offers a lot of financial support, this will cut down your tuition payments and can help with other expenses as well. Buying books, meal plans and paying for your apartment or dorm room are all things that can be better managed when a school offers a generous financial support package.

Tip 4: The school’s location needs to be right for you

The distance between a college and one’s family is an important part of the decision process. This CNBC article cites a Princeton review study that shows the majority, or 70%, of all students stay within 180 miles, or roughly three hours, of their family’s home to attend college. Consider if you are one of these students and prefer to stay a little closer to home or if you want to attend a school that is farther away. If you’re thinking you’d like to be farther away, be sure you’re okay with the cost of traveling home for holidays as well as added living costs.

The decision to be close or far away from home is a very personal one. You may have always wanted to get away as a college student and be completely independent. Or you may have envisioned your family as a big part of your college life. This choice requires a lot of self- reflection. Also, be sure to talk about this choice your family to make sure everyone is comfortable with your final decision. Such a big life choice like going off to college is made much easier with a supportive network standing behind you.

Tip 5: Make sure it’s YOUR decision

Picking where to go to college can be very stressful. Family and friends can be overly enthusiastic, telling you where they think you should go. You might even be interested in going to a school just because someone you know is also going there. Maybe you want to move on campus but your family prefers you stay home.

Whatever your situation, remember that only you can make the choice that is right for you. You need to carefully weigh all of the most important factors on your wish list and balance that with the practical aspects like cost, travel time and the like.

To help make this decision, you should visit (or complete a virtual tour) to explore each school and try to envision yourself going there. You can also seek out and talk to alumni of the school you’re interested in to find out what they liked most about their experience. Just remember – while taking other people’s advice into account, the school you feel most comfortable with should be strongly considered.

Decision Day checklist

Keeping these tips in mind, make a checklist of your own to keep track of all the things you need to think about before making a final choice. Is the financial support you’ll receive enough? Is the campus atmosphere what you’re looking for? Is the school’s location right for you? Are you being pressured into the decision or do you feel good about it? Deciding where you’ll attend college is a big life decision, so don’t take it lightly. And once you made your choice – celebrate! You’re almost ready to move on to the next step of your life journey.

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