So you’ve visited a few campuses and narrowed your college choices to a few schools. Now what? The strategies below can help you determine which to move to the top of your list.
1. Reconsider your short list.
Why is each school on your list to begin with? Does it have a great reputation in your intended field of study? Was it easy to relate to the students on campus? Is it the most affordable? Write down the best features of each of your top schools.
Decide which features are most important to you. Instead of assuming you’ll feel lost at a larger university because you come from a small town or that it will important to be within an hour of home, ask others how their expectations matched up to reality in their own college experiences. Your family and friends, who know you best, can also help you rank characteristics in order of importance.
2. Go back to campus.
If you have the time and opportunity, go back for a second campus visit. This time, immerse yourself to get a better feel for the atmosphere. Stay overnight in a dorm; sit in on a large lecture and a smaller class from your major. Talk to a professor or academic adviser, and ask students what they like and don’t like.
Finally, just walk around and hang out where the students do — the union, the commons and the local establishments — and observe. Can you see yourself talking to the students at the next table? Do you feel safe in the community?
3. Compare real benefits to actual costs.
Give each of your college choices a score for benefits, including reputation in your area, connections to possible employers and industry advancements, and placement and graduation rates.
Then, give each of your college choices a separate score for net costs. Compare financial aid award letters or the school’s online net cost calculator instead of the published rates for each. Make sure you consider costs for your entire college career, not just the first year. Don’t forget that variations like distance from home and residence options can increase or decrease total expenses for each college.