A majority of high school seniors across the globe have just made the biggest decision of their adolescent lives – picking the college they will attend in the Fall.
It is an annual event that occurs in the Spring with a deadline of May 1, and has for many decades, picked up steam as the number of colleges, applications and acceptance letters have grown.
So as the cold winter fades into the background, the grass returns to its healthy green state and is shown off at the annual Masters golf tournament, the trees and flowers come back to life, and the teachers and students are counting the days to the end of the school year – those high school seniors holding more than one acceptance letter have a big decision to make.
Decision day happens by May 1 each year.
This happens to be about 80-90% of the approximately 180 days of the typical high school year completed.
Decision day happens before those seniors walk across their commencement ceremony stages and receive their high school diplomas. It is also 3-4 months before they will make the trek to the college campus they have just decided upon.
It is not just picking a college, it is leaving the home they have known for 18 years. The decision is often times not easy. The kids realize that they are making an adult decision. The stakes are the highest they have ever been in their life relative to any decision they have had to make in their life.
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Us parents can relate can’t we? We certainly make our fair share of decisions.
According to Carl Bialik in a 2010 Wall Street Journal article the average person will have over 10 job changes in their career. He posed the question do we change jobs like we change refrigerators or cars?
Needless to say as adults it is highly likely that we have thought about a job change, about a relocation change, about moving, about getting married, about having children. These are big deals.
But for an 18-year old living with limited life experience, the college decision is usually tops on the list of biggest decisions made in life so far. Picking the college that they will spend the next several years of their lives. College Decision Day is about picking the college that will help to define and shape who they become, who they will meet, who they will learn from.
Looking back for me, I know that my decision to forfeit my room and board deposit at Boston College and go to the school I did has changed my life outcome. Undoubtedly. And I am grateful for my life, my path.
The journey starts at the fork in the road. The road to many different outcomes.
What they will be when they grow up may remain unclear, but where they will be has now been imagined and thought about for many sleepless nights.
The Students Pick The College Who Picks The Students Who Pick the College
In the circle of selection that starts with high schools students and their families identifying colleges that they may like to attend one day.
Desire to attend the college is put to action with an admissions application being completed and submitted to the colleges of choice by the colleges of choice deadlines.
But then the next step, the most difficult and The Grinder sitcom character Dean Sanderson-like drama inducing step, shifts to the colleges.
Yes before the decision is put back into the hands of the high school seniors, it is the colleges who hold the upper hand in this table turning selection process.
The college admissions departments at the 3,000 plus colleges across the country must spend many months poring through thousands of application packages consisting of test scores, essays, achievements and extracurricular activities.
The college admissions teams have had countless committee meetings discussing the types of students they want to have, the students they have chosen, the types of students that deserve merit aid, and the students that will represent the incoming class of freshman at their fine college.
The selected incoming freshman are a class that typically represents a well balanced demographic that will make this country a better place one day, properly representing their fine college.
In 2010 the University of Chicago demonstrated record applications, with over 19,000 applications for a freshman class of 1,400 students.
The end product of the college admissions application review process is the glorious offer letter to be received by eager, anxious, and waiting high school seniors and their families. In fact many students (and likely parents) stared at their mailbox each day for weeks waiting for that “one” offer of admissions to arrive. Then finally, that acceptance letter did arrive, on multiple occasions for many. Many smart seniors prepared and applied to many schools, up to 20 in some cases but many in the four to eight range. College application strategies were deployed by many families. Many high school seniors followed steps to build their list of candidate colleges. The college lists for many consist of safe schools (likely), reach schools (possible), and stretch schools (unlikely but preferred).
How Many College Applications is Enough?
It is safe to answer that zero is the worst and one is the second worst. Thirty percent of the high school seniors in the US complete no applications. They are making the conscious decision to skip more schooling and the $1 million more in lifetime earnings they could make.
In 2016, over 2.3 million high school seniors will go to college.
It is safe to assume that between 8-10 million college applications were submitted to the 3,000+ colleges in the US.
Most high school seniors submit multiple college application packages that includes a mix of schools that give the student a high probability of gaining acceptance to at least one of the colleges.
Some schools may be more difficult to get into that others, some may be further from home, some may be in state.
But all should be intentional and satisfactory schools should the student gain acceptance to any of them. If the school absolutely does not fit your criteria then it obviously should not be on your list of candidate schools.
Every school you apply to should be a school you will be happy to attend.
You started this whole process with a large number of schools you were interested in. You can check out my article titled 5 Effective Ways To Building Your College List. I describe how to build your college list.
You arrived at the list of final candidate schools to apply to. You can check out my article titled The 5 Best Ways To Narrow Down The College List. I describe how to narrow the college list.
How Do You Pick The Right College?
I should probably qualify that there is no such thing as a perfect college. It’s like there is no such thing as a perfect person, a perfect house, a perfect anything. Occasionally in the Olympics we can see divers or gymnasts earn a perfect 10, but even that is rare. Every college will have strengths and weaknesses relative to your interests, research, and visits. There are awesome and amazing colleges out there that will serve as great places to earn your degree while enjoying the experience. The colleges that made your final cut and consideration are special. Each one would be acceptable and a college worthy of your time, talents, and energy. So if you were to apply to eight colleges and receive letters of acceptance to five of them, how do you decide the one that is for you? Or let’s suppose you applied to four colleges and were accepted to two. Either way, if you have more than one acceptance letter it comes down to making a decision and picking the one college that is the best.
“Graduating college in four years with a job and no debt is the ultimate goal.” – Hired Graduate
Below are Eight steps you can follow to pick the right college:
#1 – Career Impact
Based on the name of this site alone it should be obvious our #1 goal should be to graduate with one or more job offers. That said, focusing on a career as early as possible is favorable.
The college degree is a launch pad to your career and you should have invested a decent amount of time up to now determining what classes sound interesting. Those classes align to majors which align to careers.
It is worth doing the homework, some self-assessment and then making the decision that aligns most closely to your career and major goals. Perhaps the career center at the college could be the tie breaker?
#2 – Financial Impact
Your #2 goal should be to graduate with your undergraduate degree debt free.
If this can happen thanks to financial aid in the form of merit aid, scholarships, or grants – fantastic.
If this can happen thanks to the charity of mom and dad or your grandparents – fantastic.
One of the most important things you can do starting out in life is to start out debt free.
A minimal amount ($10,000 – $20,000) of debt seems reasonable in exchange for a degree that will allow you to get a job.
Just understand that every dollar of debt is about $2 payback and the debt you have can reduce your flexibility and freedom in the future.
Graduating college in four years with a job and no debt is the ultimate goal.
Just because you get into an Ivy League school does not mean you have to go there no matter the cost. If it means you will have $100,000 – $240,000 in debts in four years, then that is a burden you just do not want.
When you get your degree the key is being employable, and how you do on your first job will chart your path.
Make your decision with good sound financial sense.
#3 – Ben Franklin Approach
For each school that is on your short list, draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper and on the top left write the word Pros and on the top right write the word Cons. Simply identify all of the pros and cons of each school.
This will allow you to have another comparison point and enable further clarity. Some Cons may have considerable weight, likewise some Pros may as well. It is not as simple as seeing if you have more pros than cons.
This process usually pulls out some difference makers and may show a stronger interest in one school over the other(s).
#4 – Research Careers
I understand you are 18 and may have no idea what career is the right one for you.
This is normal.
There are personality tests and career matching personality tests available. Take them. See what aptitudes you have.
If this does not direct you to a specific career it may at least point you toward a field of study or major.
Spend as much time as possible exploring careers during your junior and senior year to gain an understanding of careers that align to your personality and your lifestyle goals.
Understand what careers pay, starting out and over the career. Once you have researched careers, you will have a higher confidence in what happens after college.
If you identify a field of study or major based on career interests, then you have an opportunity to make the decision based on the colleges that put you into best position to learn and gain employment in that field.
#5 – Research Majors
If you do not understand what you may want to do as a career, perhaps you can assess the classes that make up different majors at the schools to see if they seem interesting.
Inquire with the college academic advisors for information about particular majors and classes required to achieve the major. If you can identify majors you may be interested in, then this can assist you in college selection.
#6 – Revisit the Colleges
Once you have narrowed the list down to two schools you may consider revisiting them, and doing so in March or April.
Try to go when classes are in session by avoiding Spring Break week if possible.
You should have your comparison sheets, your pros and cons, your initial tour complete with a set of answers to questions you have already asked.
Now you are going back, more familiar with the school than ever before. You have been to the campus so it is not a “new” or first-time experience. Which school feels better?
Be sure to check out the Career Center, the Student Center, the library, the building(s) where you will be taking classes, arrange a session with an academic advisor to discuss questions you may have about major ideas, possible classes to take as a freshman and recommended class load.
This will give you a better more realistic impression of your undertaking. Comparing these experiences between your finalist schools may make all the difference.
#7 – Think Beyond College to Professional School
As more people equip themselves with college degrees than ever before, then logically those that have Master’s degrees have an advantage.The career earning power is greater. The greater the effort and specialization, the greater the reward.
Focus on getting your undergraduate degree in four years with as little debt as possible, with the highest GPA you can get, gaining some job or internship experience, and then parlay that into graduate or professional school.
Looking and planning ahead may assist you in picking a college and will help you focus on being successful as an undergraduate. You may end up deciding NOT to go to graduate or professional school right away, but just consider the idea that you may.
#8 – Spend The Right Time Making Your Decision
One key point to make is that it is worth the investment in time it takes to reach the decision to pick your college.
Some people require less time, some people require more.
There is nothing wrong with taking the time that is needed to arrive at a decision.
If the decision is based on good points and is agreeable to the parents, then it appears to be a good decision.
The effort and time is the responsibility of the student applying to college.
It is not the high school guidance counselor, the educational consultant, the college or high school faculty members.
If mom or dad are paying the college tuition bill, then they have a big say in the college decision process and may have more involvement in the whole process. They have to.
Mom and Dad have to pay for retirement and you do not want them living with you when they get older, right?
Another Point of View In Picking The Right College
Katy Hopkins wrote an article in US News in 2012 that outlined 10 Steps to Picking the Right College for you. They are in summary:
- Review the short list
- Rank your priorities
- Revisit the school
- Focus on your endgame (will this college best prepare you to get a job when you graduate)
- Delve into the departments
- Investigate job connections
- Compare Financial Aid Awards
- Compromise where necessary
- Move on from rejection
- Don’t procrastinate
Picking The College
The college you pick should seem like a good fit for you.
You have done the homework, made your visits.
The choice should now be more solid for you. You know there is one school that stands out, feels right.
At this point, you are ready to go for it.
Follow the college instructions and submit your acceptance letter by the school identified deadline. Some applications require a room & board deposit if you are going to be staying on campus.
Be sure to read through the details with an advisor, a parent, for double and triple checking.
Wow, you did it. You picked a college. What a feeling of relief. Nice work.
What To Do After Picking Your College?
Kim Clark with Money wrote an article on April 26, 2016 Now That You’ve Done College Signing Day, Here’s All The Stuff That You Need To Do Next. Kim emphasizes the importance of being prepared for college and making sure everything comes together. She has articulated 28 to-do’s in May and June that should prove helpful to ensuring readiness for a great freshman year of college.
Some of the May To-Do’s:
- Pass all your remaining high school classes, celebrate responsibly with your friends (parties, social media), make sure AP test scores are sent to your college, get your online college student ID and password, learn your privacy rights, check the email inbox that you gave to your college regularly as they will be sending important notices and reminders, figure out your housing, finalize your financial aid, ask about placement tests, sign up for orientation, make your travel arrangements, line up a campus job, write your thank-yous
Some of the June To-Do’s:
- Send your final high school transcript to your college, obtain your student loan if necessary, visit a doctor to complete the school health forms, consider a local community college to earn some cheap college credits that may transfer in to your college and save money and make your class load more tolerable as a freshman, get to know your roommate(s), research some campus clubs or activities such as intramural soccer, reserve your sports tickets early through your schools athletic department, call the coach if you are playing a sport in the fall to check about summer conditioning or practice schedule, do your summer reading, look at your health coverage, plan your tuition payments, shop for college supplies, open a bank account, get ready for registration, enjoy some family time before leaving home
But do take some moments to relax and be sure to enjoy the final days of your senior year with your friends and spend some quality time with your family.
You are about to embark upon a great adventure.
Make it awesome!