Your mailbox (or inbox, depending on the school) is beginning to fill with decision letters. After months and years of preparation, you’re finally starting to hear back from all those colleges you applied to in the fall. It’s an exciting time, and one that is often wrought with emotion for your entire family. Once the thrill has settled and you’ve received all of your college admissions offers, it’s time to figure out which school you want to attend. This is a big decision, and not one you should take lightly. It’s always best to talk things out with your parents and even your friends, so you can consider all perspectives. While these conversations are important, there are also a few other steps to take to ensure you make the best decision. Follow these steps as part of your college selection process and you’re sure to cover all your bases.
Review financial aid packages carefully
One of the most important parts about a college admission offer is your financial aid package. If you’re attending a school that your parents can afford without any assistance, then that’s great. But even if they can afford the college tuition, a robust financial aid offer can make that school even more appealing for both you and your parents. The best things you can see in your college admission offer are grants and scholarships because those essentially equate to free money that doesn’t need to be paid back. The bottom line is that grants and scholarships are game changing.
You might also be offered a student loan. Federal loans typically come with low, fixed rates and some don’t require any payments on interest or principal while you’re enrolled in college. Those are typically good deals, but still be cognizant of how much money you borrow for school. Headlines are rife with the growing number of young adults who graduate from college with extraordinarily high students loans that are then difficult to pay for with entry level jobs.
Another component you may see in your financial aid package is a federal work-study offer. This allows you to get a part-time job with a qualified position, usually at the college you’re attending. Many positions are either in academic offices or student service areas. The college usually supplies a list of eligible positions so it’s convenient to apply and find a job to put towards your education expenses.
Re-evaluate your academic interests
A few months have passed by since you initially applied to your ideal colleges and that decision was likely influenced by the type of degrees and academic programs offered at each one. Now that you’re ready to make a decision on the best college admission offer, carefully review which schools match your current academic interests. Perhaps you were thinking of becoming an engineering major, but AP Biology has turned your eye towards pre-med. Double check to make sure that the university you choose actually offers a quality program in any new interests you have.
If you’re not sure of what you want to major in, that’s ok, too. But you probably have an idea of what subjects you love and which ones you struggle with. Make sure your chosen university has plenty of choices in areas you both enjoy and excel in. Also take a look at their core requirement classes. If you have to take a number of philosophy or English classes regardless of major, for example, but do better in math and science, this may be a consideration for you. College majors are important, but so is enjoying the entire academic experience, especially if it comes down to two schools that otherwise hold equal weight in your eyes.
Attend prospective student events
Another smart move when selecting your college is to attend as many prospective student events as possible. Many campuses offer some type of orientation where you can attend workshops, tour the inside of the dorms, and get a feel for the everyday life as a college student. Obviously this is easier if you live within easy driving distance to your university of choice. If not, there are other ways you can get a better feel as a prospective student. Check to see if there are any local alumni chapters. These often hold welcoming receptions that allow you to meet people who have already graduated and can give you personal testimonials on their experience with the school.
If there’s no formal alumni chapter, ask an admissions counselor to put you in touch with a local alumnus you can reach out to. Also check out Facebook groups for accepted students. This is a great way to ask questions and get a fresh perspective on the college admission process for an individual school. It’s also a good start in finding a potential roommate if you don’t know anyone else attending that particular college.
Ultimately, the decision is of course up to you and your parents concerning what’s best for your college education. But the resources we’ve mentioned can give you a holistic idea of everything that goes into your post-high school experience. There are tons of variables, including atmosphere, financial aid, and of course, academics. Evaluate each category carefully to determine which priorities are the highest for you and your parents. Keep an open line of communication to make sure everyone’s needs are met. If it helps, sit down together and make a pros and cons list for each school you’re considering. And above all else, don’t rush your decision. You have ample time between getting your acceptance letter and sending in your response. Take the time to think through each consideration so that you and your parents are happy with your final decision. Then you can spend your summer resting easy that you made a great choice, with happy anticipation towards your freshman year in the fall!