High School Seniors: Deciding on One College From All of Your Choices

f you are unsure about which college you want to say yes to, this may signal that you don't have enough information to make a good decision or that the information you have is incomplete or possibly disorganized. Here is a list of things to do that will help you make a good choice.
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By the middle of April, all of your college acceptances will be in. I hope you are pleased with the outcome. If you have been accepted to your preferred college, then your decision is easy; done deal! Sometimes, though, that doesn't happen and you must choose one college from a number of less favored options.

If you are unsure about which college you want to say yes to (just so you know, this is not unusual), this may signal that you don't have enough information to make a good decision or that the information you have is incomplete or possibly disorganized. Here is a list of things to do that will help you make a good choice:


1. Identify what you want in a college
If you haven't done this already, put together a list of characteristics you want in a college. Go to the College Selection Questionnaire on the adMISSION POSSIBLE website, for ideas about college features and compare what you want from schools with what the colleges offer you. Alternatively, use two different color highlighters to note things you like and don't about colleges on your final list in a college guidebook such as The Fiske or Insider's Guide.

2. Examine the financial aid packages
Take into consideration what the total cost of attending each college will be, what the colleges are offering you, what your parents are able to pay, and what you will need to contribute by working during the school year and/or the summer.

Compare the financial packages. If the monies offered from your first choice schools are not as good as others, call their financial aid office and judiciously use the other better offers as leverage to ask about more aid.

3. Get information and advice from students, teachers, counselors, family and friends about colleges:

  • Students

Graduates from your high school who are current students at colleges and recent young alumni who live in your area (names and contact information should be available from the admissions office) all are excellent sources for helpful information about individual colleges.

  • Teachers and college counselors
    Your teachers, high school and independent counselors are other valuable resources. Having taught and/or counseled scores of students over the years, they usually have a good sense for what kinds of students do well at different schools.
  • Parents, older siblings, other family members and friendsNo one knows you better than your family and good friends. Talk with them about your options, but don't forget to listen to your own gut.
  • 4. Pre-Admit days and other college visits
    The most useful source of information for any student trying to decide where to go to college is to visit campuses. Even if you have visited a college before, do it again. There is a big difference between seeing a college when you are an applicant and then when you are an accepted student.

    Many colleges offer Pre-Admit programs in which admitted students spend a couple of days going on campus tours, living in a dorm, participating in special activities and talking with professors and current students. If you can't attend one of these events, you can also visit a campus on your own.

    Students from low-income backgrounds should contact admissions offices to see about Pre-Admit scholarships to help them with travel and other expenses.

    As you approach making your final decision, try to keep calm. Remember, you have until May 1.

    By going through the above information-gathering activities, you are performing your "due diligence" in making a final choice. After you have gathered all of the information you can, here are some techniques you can use to come up with a decision.

    a. Pro (what I like) and Cons (what I don't like)
    Students often find it useful to set up a grid in which they identify the pros and cons of attending each college. Write down the names of each college and then identify what you like and don't like for each of the colleges. After you have done that, circle the college/s that have the most pros and least cons.

    b. Rating colleges on a scale from 1-10
    If identifying the pros and cons for each of the colleges doesn't give you a final answer, then list all of the colleges that you are considering and rate them on a scale from 1 (No interest at all) to 10 (Love the school!). Once you have done this, rank order the colleges according to their numbers, highest first, followed by lower-scoring schools. One or two colleges should jump out with highest scores, getting you one step closer to knowing to whom you're going to say yes.

    c. If you still don't have the answer to which college you want to attend, ask yourself these questions:
    What does my heart tell me? On which campus do I feel at home? Picture yourself at different campuses walking around, living in a dorm, going to a football game or sitting in a classroom. Which colleges bring up positive thoughts and feelings? Which ones make you feel uneasy, anxious or concerned? Keep in mind that no college is going to be perfect, and there are probably any number of colleges that will work very well for you.

    d. Ask for help
    If you're still feeling uncertain, then sit down with someone you trust and who cares about you, and discuss with them what information and conclusions you have come to so far. Ask for help in sorting through the information and feelings you have.

    After that, it really is up to you.

    Take care not to choose a college only for its prestige or high ranking, as opposed to one that really appeals to you. Also, ignore whether the colleges you are considering are Reaches, Good Chances or Safeties on your college list. In many cases, students find that a Good Chance or Safety school fits them better academically and/or personally than a Reach one. Also, resist the temptation to go to a college to please someone else -- a parent, grandparent, girl or boyfriend -- even if that person is really important in your life.

    Only you can make the final decision. After all, you are the person who will be attending the school.

    Finally, remember that even if you make a wrong decision, it's not fatal.
    If a college doesn't work out, you can transfer to another college, a process that can begin as early as the first semester/quarter of your freshman year.

    Good luck and happy landing!

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