While it is often the case that deciding where to attend college is the culmination of the college search and application process, learning how to make that decision is also very much a part of the process. One method to help students with the decision phase is comparing “apples to apples” regarding potential college choices by re-visiting and prioritizing their initial college experience criteria. Remembering those critical aspects is often the easy part but assigning value and importance to each particular criteria may be more challenging. The initial college application list may look uniform with consistent criteria that check all the boxes for each student, whether that be a preference for a large public university, a major metropolitan area, a research university or a liberal arts school surrounded by rolling hills. Once acceptances are known, that list shifts. Where there once were 10-12 schools, now there may be three, five or seven schools to choose from. It was not surprising when one of my students said to me that their list looked more like apples, kiwis and mangoes. To move forward and choose, however, students need to understand the specific nuances, i.e., whether and why a certain kind of apple, kiwi or mango is best for them.
Whatever seeds of interest that resulted in schools being on your college list and now your acceptance list may have evolved since you first chose them. From the time applications are submitted to the time acceptances are received, students have grown, developed new interests and potentially incorporated new ways of thinking that redefine what is essential to them. Revisiting the qualities and factors you want in your college experience and now deciding their relative importance can add clarity and help reveal the similarities and distinctions between colleges where you’ve been accepted. While you need to develop your own questions, try answering some of these questions as a warmup:
o Does the school culture and environment support who you are?
o Are there clubs and organizations that fit with your interests academically and socially or offer opportunities to explore?
o Could you envision yourself in late night banter about esoteric topics or binging on Netflix with your roommates?
o Are you excited that campus and city are one and taking the mass transit to classes, to the grocery store or to travel home for breaks is just what you want?
o Did you learn that a well-regarded professor will be teaching courses in your major?
o Was a new 3-2 program introduced that fits with what you want to study?
o Is there a robust career placement center that will support finding internships and jobs?
o Is your financial package enough so that college will be affordable?
o Do you see yourself walking across campus with crisp leaves crunching under your feet and studying on the lawn of the main quad?
o Maybe it is none of these, and you found an internship in Iceland dug up months after applications were submitted.
o Did you attend Admitted Students’ Day and the weather was slushy and grey, but the idea of throwing on one more layer of clothing and finding out what it’s like to live in what people call “seasons” was the new bonus of a particular college?
o Were the students seemed friendly?
What seniors come to learn is that choosing a college often involves trade-offs. Maybe the choices will be between warm weather or a school with a quarter system, or one school has extensive resources and libraries while another has a small teacher to student ratio, or perhaps it will be based on which college offers a stronger financial package. The list of trade-offs could be endless but will be specific as the student. Prioritizing what will be the most important characteristics will help with making a decision.
For some seniors, deciding where to go to college will be easy and exciting, and for others, it will be so monumentally important that indecision can capture them, even if cushioned in family support. There is no one perfect school. A student’s strengths and accomplishments are embedded in who they are, and will go with them no matter which college they choose. Remembering this can give students confidence that they are shaping the direction of their future and help reaffirm which school is their best fit as they decide which they prefer - apples, kiwis or mangoes.
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