It has been quite a long ride, but you have survived! You have heard back from your colleges. Congratulations on your hard work, dedication, and ambition! Regardless of what decisions came out last week, be very proud of yourself, celebrate with your loved ones, and be ready to take on the world. While you are doing all this fun stuff, keep in mind that you still have some important decisions to make. I would like to use this week’s blog post as an opportunity to give you some pointers that will help you make a well-calculated college choice.
As I always say, the right college is different for everyone and depends on three factors: financial fitness, academic fitness, and socio-emotional fitness. Let me elaborate on each and help you figure out how you can come to the best decision utilizing each tip.
For starters, if you do not have the funds to pay for college, then the financial aid package you are awarded by each college will play a very crucial role in determining your college choice. Each college has a different way of presenting your financial award, and it could get a little tricky to decipher how much money will come out of your pocket to pay for your total cost of attendance (including tuition, room and board, books and educational materials, laptop, travel to and from home, and other miscellaneous expenses.) Feel free to read one of my recent blog posts on “How Much Student Loan Debt Is Too Much?” to understand the information presented on your award letter. An easy way to compare the financial aid awards offered to you by colleges would be to use College Board’s calculator that lets you select up to four colleges and enter the financial award received from each to be able to compare them side by side. After you input all the data from each college’s financial aid letter on the system, you will see the “Net Price” for each college in front of you. It is very simple, time-efficient, and very accurate! You will not need to worry about trying to understand the rather confusing and complicated terminology. You can access this free tool at https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/financial-aid-awards/compare-aid-calculator. Before you start using the calculator, make sure you gather all the award letters for all the colleges you are comparing and enter the state you live in at the top of the page. If you find out that your dream college is going to cost you a lot more than the others and if you are not able to afford that kind of a financial commitment, then I would highly encourage you to check with your local community for any scholarships. At this point, the deadlines for most national scholarships have passed, but you might have better luck in landing a scholarship form your religious affiliation (such as church, temple, mosque, etc.), local Rotary Club, municipal township, or even school district. It would be a good idea to check in with your high school guidance counselor to see if there are any scholarship opportunities offered to students at your school with pending deadlines. I would also advise that your parents reach out to their companies to inquire if they have a scholarship program that you can benefit from. Once again, if you feel that your award will not be enough to pay for college, then you can go back to my previous blog post and find out how you can start the appeal process.
Now that the financial fitness portion is out of the way, you are ready to move on to the next step – assessing whether you will be academically fit for the college you choose to attend. You have already been admitted, which means the college admissions officers have utmost faith in you that you will succeed, but you need to make sure that you will not only succeed but also thrive in your chosen destination. Do you think classes will be a breeze for you, or will you have to study really hard to tackle some very challenging courses and maintain a good GPA? Would you benefit more from a small or a large class size? You must have taken all those factors into consideration while building your college list – at least, that is what I do with my students, but now this is the real thing. Your preferences and opinions might have changed since you put together your college list. How do you know for sure that any one college has what it takes for you to thrive academically? Well, to be honest, you really do not know until you enroll and actually study there, but one way to see what is like to be a student there is to attend the Admitted Student Day at each college (if you can) and see the campus with a fresh set of eyes. You will get a chance to sit in an actual class and see how classes are conducted. That will also give you the opportunity to meet actual students and ask them lots of questions about the rigor of the curriculum, accessibility of professors, class size, research opportunities, etc. I cannot think of a better way to get a real feel of the academics and think of your future self sitting in classes on campus. If you cannot attend the Admitted Student Day, then do not worry too much. You can always attend virtual tours that are offered online via the website of each college or write to the admissions office to put you into contact with a current student in your major to find answers to your questions about academics and more. Most of the time, colleges will entertain such a request because they want you to attend their college, which would increase their “yield rate.” You have worked hard to impress them; now, it is their time to impress you so that you can pick them!
This brings us to our last factor in deciding on your college, which is the socio-emotional fitness. For this one, I would strongly recommend that you visit each college you are considering; not virtually – I mean visiting in person. Even if you cannot make the Admitted Student Day, try to go at least to a couple of colleges you are very interested in. There is no way you can get a real feel of the campus and the student body without actually being around. If you attend the Admitted Student Day, then ask if you can stay in one of the dorms as the guest of a current student. Some colleges will let you do that, while others might not have such a program in place. Experiencing a night on campus with real students will be a wonderful indicator of the social setting and will give you a chance to put yourself and your needs into perspective. If you cannot do that, then I would recommend the bench test. It is my favorite test that I like to share with my students. When you visit the campus, sit on a bench – alone – for about thirty minutes. Without any distractions, just look around, watch people passing by, try to listen to what students are talking about, focus on how they look (happy, excited, tired, drained, hopeful, ambitious, creative, miserable, preppy, down-to-earth, etc… – you get what I mean.) Try to envision yourself on campus. How would you fit in that crowd? Who would you be talking to? Which class would you be running to catch? Would you have friends? What kind of people would be in your circle? Do you see a happy version of you? Can you picture yourself on that campus for the next four years of your life? Write down your feelings so that you can remember how that campus made you feel when you are comparing your notes. See if the college passes the bench test. Trust me, those thirty minutes will give you the answer, and you will know where you belong. The bench test never fails…
This is a thrilling time of your life when you will start making decisions about your future, so embrace the moment. Do not get caught up on the big names, trends, or what others think. This is the one decision you must make yourself and for yourself (after, of course, financial need is met). Your future awaits… Do not delay your plans. Colleges have offered you admission! Now is the time you are trending. Celebrate you! I know I am…
After reading this blog post, if you still need advice on how to make your college decision, simply reach out to us. Here at EdMission Possible, making the right choices lies at the core of our unique Student-Centered College CounselingTM approach. We are here to help you out every step of the way or just to celebrate your choices. Whichever path you choose, never forget that as long as you go with your mind, heart, and, soul, no decision you make will ever be regretful. Is that not the best decision you can ever make for yourself? Congratulations again! I am very proud of each and every one of you… Welcome, Class of 2023!
Burcak Deniz Cakir, M.A., M.B.A.
Founder and President | EdMission Possible