It's almost decision time. Most colleges will require students to make their final decisions on which college they will attend by May 1st. I live in an area that is blessed with many college options and you know decision time is near because you see signs for admitted student's day all over the place.
Admitted students day is the colleges final shot to woo any still undecided students to attend their school. So if you are one of those still undecided students what can you do to make your decision easier?
There are a few really important things to consider:
• Can you really imagine yourself being content academically and socially at the school for the next four years?
• What is the four year graduation rate at each school?
• What kind of a financial aid package is the school offering you?
Being able to imagine yourself attending a school through the next four years is important because transferring to another school will cost you time and money. Imagining yourself there means it will fulfill your needs both academically and socially. Is your potential major a popular one at the school? Does the surrounding town seem like a place you would enjoy?
The four year graduation rate is also important. Do they offer enough of the required classes that would make it possible for you to graduate within the four year time frame? There are many colleges that fall short here. There are not enough spaces available in required courses to allow for all students to take the course on time ending up with a delayed graduation. This adds both time and money to your bottom line. If you love the school but they have a low four year graduation rate find out why.
Finally, consider the offer of financial aid you received. Dig into the particulars of that offer. How much of what they are offering is in the form of grant or scholarship money and how much of the offer is student loans? Using the offer, calculate an estimated total loan debt over the course of the next four years; Stafford loan amounts increase over the course of your education, so the amount of loan in your freshman year will increase in subsequent years. Then compare that debt amount to what a typical graduate earns in the field you are going into. The debt amount should not be more than what you will earn in that first year of employment. If you are unsure of your major, find out what an average graduate from the school you're thinking of attending earns upon graduation. Use that figure to find out if your debt load will be one you can live with.
Making that final choice is exciting and scary. But if you do a little research and planning you can feel comfortable with whatever you choose. As I drive around town and see the students heading off to "admitted students day," I say a little prayer for them that they think things through with a level head and make a decision that will serve them well.