The Final College Choice – Choosing Between Two Colleges

Published by Wendy Nelson on

Within the past week, my daughter has managed to narrow down to two college options, I’ll call them School A and School B.  It was looking like an easy choice to go with School A, based on the bottom-line out of pocket cost, until I had a conversation with her admission counselor at school B.  I was amazed at the flexibility School B showed.  I will cover that further in my next post about negotiating.  Given that the two schools were going to be fairly comparable on cost, my daughter went ahead with an admitted student visit this weekend.  She came back liking the two schools equally.  We asked her whether she set herself a timeline for making a decision.  She said, “No.”  I could tell by her mood that this was going to be a tough decision for her (and her parents).  It forced me to think about what a final decision should be based on.

How do you make the final college choice between two schools?

Assuming that the student has been to overnight visits at both colleges and has had all the basic questions answered, the following areas may be things to look at to determine the final college choice.

  1. Academic Reputation – Does one have a better academic reputation than the other?  How do you determine this?  Well, if you want to see student rankings for academics and other areas, you can go to College Prowler.  The Princeton Review website gives schools an Academic Rating.  They use a scale from 60-99 to judge how hard students work and how much they get back for their efforts.  The information is gathered from student surveys and statistical information reported by college administrators.
  2. Student Body Geographical Diversity – This is a personal preference item – Does the student want a campus filled mostly with students from his/her home state or does he/she want to meet students from other states and around the globe?  It should be pretty easy to find information on the college’s website or other ranking sites about where the students come from.
  3. Fit – This is very subjective to the student.  Did he/she feel like one school was a better overall “fit” – a place to feel comfortable and belong?
  4. Size – Was the size of one school more appealing than the other?  Were they about the same?
  5. Activities – Is there a difference in activities offered that would make one school more appealing than the other?  For example, with my daughter’s two options, one is Division 1 for athletics, the other is Division 3.  She ran cross country in high school, but is not a fast enough runner to be sought out for college teams.  She needs to determine whether she could get on both schools’ cross country teams or whether the D3 school would be her only option for competing.  On the other hand, as a spectator, is the D1 school going to offer more exciting basketball and football games?
  6. Housing Options – Is there a difference in the type of housing available to freshmen?  How many years does each school require students to live on campus?
  7. Course Requirements & Options – Look at the general education requirements at both schools – are they the same?  Does one school take a more well-rounded approach than the other?  Find the course catalog online and look at the options.  Does one school seem to offer better course topics or special content areas that the student finds interesting?
  8. Job and/or Internship Opportunities – Is there a difference in on-campus job opportunities or off-campus job opportunities while the student is at school?  Does one school offer a better internship program?  What about prospects for the first job after college?  Look at the statistics for students finding jobs within the first 6 months after graduation and ask about employers that recruit on campus.
  9. Total Cost – Is there enough of a difference in the out-of-pocket cost to make one school more appealing?  Are there additional costs that may make a difference?  For example, one of my daughter’s options offers an optional May Term.  Taking a class on campus has an extra fee of $500, but choosing from several great off-campus class opportunities can carry an extra cost of $2000 – $7000.

Have you been through this process before?  How did your student make the final decision?


Janet · June 1, 2013 at 11:42 am

My oldest daughter was accepted to 9 top nursing schools in the pacific northwest. We toured a few together, and she toured a few on her own. She stopped going when she arrived at a school that made her feel welcome. She knew the first day of the overnight stay, that it was her new college home. When kids want to buy the sweatshirt, you know it is real. The school she went to was the 6th on her tour of campuses. She just knew. And the fin aid was just about the same at all of them. Was set us back financially was all of the airfare getting her to and from each year. If a college is not in close proximity to a major airport, know that the last leg will really bump the cost of travel.

    Wendy Nelson · June 1, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Janet, great point about the airfare. Parents need to calculate the total cost including travel. It would be really hard to say no to a school that felt right though. I think we all feel like the “fit” needs to be there too. The best case scenario is that our kids will find a school that’s a great fit, makes sense financially, and they come out with skills and qualities that are attractive in the job market.

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