So high school seniors, you now have less than 30 days before you must make a final decision on where to attend college next fall. You should know by now which schools you have been accepted to and what is being offered in terms of financial aid. If for some reason you have not received this information from a specific college, you should contact their admissions or financial aid office right away.
If you are stressing about not making a final choice on where to go, here are three essential questions that I believe if answered properly will help make your decision less difficult:
1) Which schools are the best fit for YOU? Forget about where your friends are going and what they say about the schools you are considering. You need to determine where you will have the best chance of success and where you will best grow and develop as a person. Which schools offer the program(s) that you are most interested in and also offer the most internships in that field? Which schools offer the campus population, location, activities and class sizes that best suit you? If at all possible, I strongly suggest you revisit the top 2 or 3 schools you are considering and perhaps not during the staged “Student Acceptance Days”. Even if you attend during these events, walk the campus on your own and talk to students about their school. Most will be very honest about their experience.
2) Which schools are truly affordable for YOU? This factor will be different for every student based on the net price of each school and the resources of each family. Although deciding on a college is emotional, you must look at cost objectively as it can have a significant impact on you and your family for many years. Attempt to calculate the loans that will be needed for all four (hopefully) years and what that will translate to in terms of repayment after graduation. You should consider the average starting salary of employees in your chosen profession in relation to the approximate loan payment(s) that will kick in very quickly after graduation. Also, if parents are borrowing on your behalf, be sure there is a clear understanding of who will own this debt after graduation.
3) Which schools demonstrate the best numbers to YOU? There are a few key numbers to consider as you make your final decision. Take a look at a school’s graduation rates, especially the four year rate. The average four year graduation rate is about 37% with the more selective schools being at about 60-80%. Also, take a look at a school’s freshman retention rate. Although there are many contributing factors, this will give you a sense as to how satisfied students are at a college. A school that has a retention rate of 80% or above is good but take a closer look at any with a rate of 75% or below. Lastly, review the numbers from a school’s career placement office. What percentage of students who graduated with your intended major have jobs in their field or have been admitted to grad schools? If you can’t find these numbers, call the school and ask for them.
It has been my experience from working with students in this process that if you establish a checklist with the information you obtain from answering the above questions, you will more easily come to a conclusion as to which school to attend. Seniors, I wish all of you the very best as you make this significant decision for the next stage of your life.