The time has come for you to celebrate being a senior! Prom is around the corner, you were accepted into three colleges, and you’re all ready for summ—wait. You were accepted into three colleges? You applied to them because you like them; or, at least, you liked them enough to apply to them as backups. And now, regardless of whether they’re your first choices or your last, you have to pick one.
But… nobody prepared you for this! They only prepared you to get accepted, not to actually…accept! We get it, it’s tough. Especially since six months ago, the choice seemed obvious.
Take a deep breath! You’ve got this. Now, you could start by asking yourself the basic questions: how close (or far) the campuses are from home, the tuition affordability, or the size of campus. But have you considered asking yourself more contextual questions?
What if New York University (NYU) is expensive, but you got out-of-state financial aid for being from California? What if you’re disappointed at the fun-sized campus of Occidental College, but you forgot it’s plopped in the middle of the very much not fun-sized Los Angeles?
Looking at just the numbers isn’t quite enough, which is why we’re here to give you one big piece of advice: ask yourself the contextual questions. And, luckily for you, we’ve provided some below, broken up into three categories (location, cost, and program). Skim along with us–you’ll be surprised at how many questions you haven’t asked yourself yet.
…and we don’t just mean the state the college is in.
Look at the location of the campus within the city, and think about how you’d be getting around to all the food and stores from your dormitory. Consider:
- How will you be moving around? Think about how you’ll be physically getting between class, the grocery store, and the dorm, at least. Will you be walking, taking a subway, ride-sharing, or maybe even borrowing an upperclassman’s car? Do you know how you’ll prevent sweaty clothes from walking or biking, know a backup option for an MIA ride, or know how reliable your upperclassman’s schedule will be? How much flexibility do you have? Consider also how far from home you’ll be, and how you’ll get off campus to visit the surrounding area (and, yes, you’ll eventually even want to visit home!).
- What’s around the campus? Are you okay being next to a city? Next to nothing but nature and an old gas station? Think about your options for restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, and even attractions you’ll want to visit in your free time. Do you like your options? How far are you willing to go for more?
- Where will you be living? Don’t just think about if you’ll be on- or off-campus right now, think about the buildings themselves. Is it maintained, or does it have a history of bugs and bad landlords? Do you get to pick your roommates or is it a lottery? Do you get to bring your fish (or, I don’t know, lizard)? Can you cook in the dorm if you’re not close to any restaurants or the dining hall? What’s the laundry and bathroom-sharing situation?
…and we don’t just mean tuition and fees.
Even if you’re not concerned about money, you should at least be prepared! Consider the aid you may get, and how this new location will change your day-to-day costs. Consider:
- How much aid will the school provide? Do the math to determine the grand total for each college now, even if it sucks. Because I promise, if you’re really unsure of which to pick—if one of them saves you even five thousand dollars—you’ll be thanking yourself later, when you have that much less debt to work off after graduation.
- What’s the difference in costs between this new town and your current one? Groceries and taxis or ride-sharing to fun attractions have different prices in different areas. Try to do the math (sorry) for one week of both boring and fun things (aka your “cost of living”). Determine everything you’d have to pay for in a week, in both your current town and in the new one you’re considering. Compare them, and see if your budget is going to work for this new area, or if you need to make some adaptations. Set realistic expectations now, before you leave!
…and we don’t just mean their ranking.
Consider what resources you want available, as well as how the program allocates resources and opportunities for your chosen major. Consider:
- Do they have internship matching or grad school connections? These are the most routinely proven ways to get off the ground right after graduation. A company is way more likely to hire you if you’ve successfully worked with them as an intern, and a graduate program is more likely to accept you if you demonstrate your dedication by showing up.
- What are the program’s goals for students post-graduation? Some programs aim to prep you for a Master’s program, others aim to prep you for a career. Read each program’s description on the colleges’ sites, and scrutinize the wording. Or, even better, ask an alum from each program, and determine where each faculty and curriculum is trying to launch you after graduation. Once you figure it out, ask yourself: Do you like where they’re launching you?
- What is the program trying to teach you? Sure, a computer science program is going to teach you the basics of programming and hardware, and an English program is going to teach you about literature. But do you know what the specializations are? Did you know many comp sci programs have an emphasis on AI, while others on cybersecurity? Did you know some English programs focus on historic writings, while others focus on your own creative works? Probably. But do you know the theme of each program that you’re considering?
It’s a lot to think about, but even asking yourself a few of these questions can make your choice clearer.
My two cents? Do your best to answer the tough questions, to find the disadvantages of each campus now, before you enroll. Once you see each college clearly for what it is, you can make a choice and be prepared for the experience, not blindsided by it.
If you’re still stuck, Empowerly admissions counselors with years of experience working with colleges as well as with students like yourself are available to work things out with you. Don’t have time for an appointment? You could ask the research team to build you a college comparison, and we’ll research all the questions above, for each college, for you, and lay it all out so you can compare all your options side by side.
College is fun, and it’s a whole new thing, but where you go is not nearly as important as where you want to go afterward. You’ll make it to where you want to be in life no matter what, so try not to stress! You’ve got this.