Resources / Prepare And Apply

How to Make a Great College Choice

female college student in school

As you look over your college acceptances, your final decision may be obvious. But sometimes it isn't. Here are some tips for choosing which college to attend.

To start, put your rejections in the rearview mirror. As one dean of admissions said, “It’s the college’s loss, not yours.” Then focus on the colleges at which you have been accepted.

  • Review the factors you used when you decided where to apply. Have you changed your mind about any of the criteria you used when you put together your college list? Which college or colleges meet the criteria most important to you now?
  • Eliminate colleges you really can't afford. Or decide to ask for more aid (see below).
  • Participate in college-sponsored online events. During the pandemic, many colleges increased online and virtual programming to help students get to know the college. Take advantage of these options if you can — especially those that can connect you with current students and faculty.
  • Do more research. Do as much research as you can via social media and YouTube to get a sense of the community at the schools you're interested in. Review data about the college on the college’s website or using CollegeData’s college profiles, which you can access from College Search. Reach out to your admissions officer at the college to ask questions and to see about connecting with professors and current students.
  • Get advice. Talk over your choices with your parents, older siblings, teachers, guidance counselor and anyone else whose opinion you value.
  • Consider visiting. If possible, make a visit to the college campus or attend an event for admitted students. An in-person visit while school is in session can help you get a feeling for what life is like on campus. Admitted student events often include a campus tour, information about academic programs, discussions with current students, and the opportunity to meet with a financial aid officer. Many colleges hold these events online as well as in person.

Dealing with College Waitlists

If you are waitlisted at your first-choice college, your next step is to call the admissions office to find out your status. If you are high on the waitlist, communicate your continued interest and enthusiasm by email, letter or phone and present any new information to support and bolster your application. In the meantime, accept the offer from your next-choice college. Without overdoing it or being a pest, periodically reach out to the admissions office at your waitlisted school to find out your status, and continue to express interest.

Dealing with College Cost

If your top college did not offer you enough financial aid to make it affordable, you can appeal for more financial aid. To make your appeal, you will need to present the college's financial aid office with adequate documentation of special circumstances that affect you and your family’s ability to pay for college.

Special circumstances colleges typically consider include:

  • Job loss or decrease in income
  • The death, divorce or separation of your parents
  • Special needs or disabled children
  • Unreimbursed medical and dental expenses
  • Catastrophic loss such as damage or loss from a natural disaster
  • End of child support, Social Security benefits for a child, or alimony payments.

Also, some schools are willing to adjust an award package to match a better offer from another college. You might want to let your top-choice school know about any better financial aid offers you have received from other schools.

Dealing with Hard-to-Make College Decisions

  • If several colleges are running neck and neck. Ask yourself where you want to be in four years. If you can pinpoint a reasonable job and financial outlook, consider which college might best help you reach those goals. Or, research the departments you’d be studying in. Is one school better known for your major? Are faculty actively engaged on campus and in your field? Other tie-breaking factors might be cost, campus culture, location, and size.
  • Look at student outcomes. Data showing four-year graduation rates, the percentage of students employed after graduation, and average student debt may also help you determine which college might be the best choice in the long run.

  • If none of your accepted colleges stand out. Bear in mind that you can have a great college experience at any number of schools. The effort you put into succeeding at college makes much more of a difference than which college you choose. So pick the college you like best, and give it all you’ve got.

Appealing a College Denial

Colleges rarely reverse admission decisions, but it you’re thinking about appealing, make sure you know the school’s appeals policy and process.

Choosing a college should depend on your priorities and “gut feeling." When you are ready, take a deep breath, decide, and celebrate. You are going to college!

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