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by Liz Jackson

It’s Decision Time

May 1 is National College Decision Day – the date by which college-bound high school seniors must notify one college of their intent to enroll next fall and submit a deposit to secure their place in the freshman class. If you are like many students, you might be trying to decide among several different options, and we get it–choosing is tough!  But here are some factors to consider, as you work with your family to determine the school that will be best for you. 

Most Important Criteria. Identify your most important criteria in choosing a college. What do you consider “must have” and “nice to have” features?  Maybe small class sizes is your biggest priority, and you don’t care too much about the school’s location. Or, maybe a school with lots of spirit and D1 athletics is important to you, but it doesn’t matter to you whether you’ll be able to study abroad. Whatever your criteria are, name them and assign values to them so you can clearly articulate what matters to you most in a college. 

Once you have identified your most important criteria, then you can rank each of your college choices in terms of what it offers relative to your criteria.  This helps put numbers to your decision.

Don’t Forget about Finances: Review the financial aid award letters from each of the colleges you are considering. Compare the net price of each school, the grants and scholarships (money that does not have to be repaid), work study, and loans (money that has to be repaid) that are part of the financial aid packages. Calculate the amount of student debt you will incur at each college and run the Student Loan Calculator to get an idea of the monthly payments you will have to make after graduation.  Choose a college that is affordable.

College Visits/Virtual Tours. If time,  finances, and COVID restrictions permit, try to visit the schools you are considering prior to making the final decision.  Many colleges have admitted student days or weekends for accepted students and their families (virtual or in-person).  You can also contact the admissions office to inquire about visit options. What was your reaction to the visit? Did you “see” yourself at any of the schools? If you aren’t able to visit in person, refresh your memory by watching a virtual tour of the colleges on your list. 

 Trust Your Gut Feeling. There is no perfect college, but you probably have more than one great choice. In addition to comparing the pros and cons of each school (go ahead and make that spreadsheet or comparison grid), what is your gut feeling? Where will you get the kind of education you want? What school can you afford to attend? Where will you be happy for the next four years?

Making the Decision and Responding to Colleges. Once you have decided which college to attend, you need to do the following on or before May 1:

  • Notify the school you have chosen of your decision to accept the college’s offer of admission and pay the enrollment deposit.
  • Submit any required financial aid paperwork.
  • Secure on campus housing and send in any required housing deposit.
  • Contact the other colleges, thank them for the offer of admission, and notify them that you will not attend. This is courteous and will allow the colleges to offer your spot and financial aid to another student.
  • Enjoy the remainder of your senior year and finish strong. You did it! Congratulations!