Making the Final College Choice

Published by Wendy Nelson on

It’s March, a key month for college acceptances and financial aid packages, leading up to the May 1 “National College Decision Day,” so it seems like a good time to talk about high school seniors making the final college choice.  Many have already decided, but for some, like my daughter, it will come down to the wire.  She is still waiting to receive some final decisions and results that may make the difference on which school she will choose.  Her high school guidance department wants to be notified of everyone’s final decisions by April 1 so that they can be listed in the yearbook and graduation programs, so that’s the date we are shooting for.

If you find yourself in the same position we are, you may be struggling with what criteria should weigh into the final college choice.  As with most things in the college search process, there is no easy one-size-fits-all answer here.  Every student and every family are different.   Some will base the final decision on cost – of the schools that their student was admitted to, what’s the lowest cost option?  Some will base it on reputation – what’s the most prestigious school that accepted the student?       Most will try to base it on some “magic” combination that may include many of the following:

  • Cost
  • Reputation
  • Graduation Rate
  • Number of graduates who find employment within 6 months
  • Freshman retention rate
  • Positive comments/ratings from current students
  • Challenging classwork
  • Opportunity to excel
  • Location
  • Student’s overall impression – was it a good “fit”

If you are struggling with the final decision and getting overwhelmed by all the different factors that may come into play, my recommendation is this – go back to the criteria you used when your student was first looking for schools.  What was important to you and your child then?  Now evaluate that criteria against the schools your student is deciding between.  Are the same things important to you now or did the criteria change along the way?  Make sure all the choices align with your current philosophy of what will make a great school.  For my daughter, she was able to knock a few choices out of the running just by going back to her original thoughts on location and fit.

In order to narrow down to the final college choice, you need to pick one overriding characteristic.  For my daughter, it will be value.  This doesn’t necessarily equate to the lowest cost option.  We are trying for the most “bang for the buck” – balance the school’s reputation, teaching quality, student success rate and happiness,  opportunities, and fit for my daughter against the bottom line cost.  It’s not an easily quantifiable characteristic, I know, so I am prepared for some tough discussions!  If you can narrow your characteristics down to one or a few of the items listed above, you will have a much easier time with the final decision!

One last thing to keep in mind is to remember to look at this as a four-year deal.  If financial aid figures into the decision, you need to look beyond what is being offered for the first year.  Is anything going to change your financial picture over the next three years?  Maybe you are hoping for a big promotion (possibility of less financial aid), maybe you are expecting a big bonus (again, possibility of less financial aid), or maybe you will have another kid in college soon (possibility of more financial aid).  When assessing cost and value, make sure you keep that full four-year picture in mind as it may make a particular school more or less attractive overall.

I’d love to hear what characteristics went into your child’s decision or what you think will be the deciding factor.  Post a comment and let me know your thoughts.