By Deb Coco
It’s finally that time of year. Our students have visited, visited again, applied and of course, WAITED. May 1 is just a few weeks away.
If you are like most students, you’ve received offers from several schools and now it’s time to buckle down and weigh your options. It’s more difficult than it seems, because all schools are not created equal. And most likely your offers are not either. Some schools may have given you some financial aid and others possibly merit scholarships. Often the “dream” school didn’t offer money, but the safety did; do you choose the school with “cache” or do you take the money and run? So many factors go into deciding which college or university to attend and you’re wise to mull it over. Here’s some tried and true advice about how to weigh this decision, which is possibly the biggest of your life thus far!
For most students in 2017, money matters. Even if you were not a financial aid candidate, it’s hard to turn down a large (or even small) merit scholarship. Keep these facts in mind: merit money is yours, it’s an award based on your academic achievement and you should be proud of it. You will also not be required to pay it back – which is extremely enticing in today’s world of trillions in student loan debt. However, financial aid is the name of the game for a huge pool of students and some of it WILL have to be repaid. Whether your package involves loans, grants, work study, or a blend of the three, once you graduate they become your first mortgage. So, the bigger the loan the more weight on you to be quickly and gainfully employed upon graduation. Consider this when making your choice; what does school “X” offer students in terms of job placement? Every college and university has a department of career counseling and some are better than others. Check into it and see what alums have to say about this important factor. Career counseling offices “should” post their statistics on job placement and be there to answer your questions; if they are not, buyer beware.
There is also much talk about “fit” and with good reason; there are thousands of colleges and no two are alike. After acceptances go out, so do “Admitted Student Day” invitations. Don’t turn these down or think you already know everything there is to know about a school; if possible, take the time to attend these special days. Schools roll out the red carpet for their accepted students and you’ll have the opportunity to be much more intimate with faculty and students than on your initial campus tours. One of my daughters was extremely perplexed about her final decision and the accepted student day at her university “knocked it out of the park” and cinched it for her. They are valuable opportunities to make a final evaluation and should definitely play a role if you’re on the fence!
And last but never, ever least; I’ve always believed there is a case to be made for trusting your gut. I tell students that their feedback on schools is based on that “gut” reaction they have when they step onto a campus. Do these students look like people I’ll feel comfortable living with for four years? Is the physical campus one that excites me? I love schools with an “old” feel; I’ve had students feel exactly the opposite and want a modern, “techy” like vibe. These factors, and others, matter; pay attention to them. Other issues may need to matter more, but if all else is equal, there is a case to be made for choosing what feels “right.”
It’s more likely than not that you will ultimately end up where you’re meant to be. However, it took a long time to visit, study, take those SATs, write your essay AND apply; don’t jump the gun on the biggest part of all. Most importantly, congratulations! You’ve completed the most difficult part – now enjoy your success.