The Facts and Feelings of Choosing Your College or University: Tips

Bryan Rutledge, Director of College Counseling, Woodward Academy, College Park, GA

If you are a counselor trying to help students make college decisions this spring (or summer), we hope you will find these tips helpful to share with students!

The waiting is finally over, and you know your admission results. Congratulations on the acceptances you have earned. In addition to meeting all your academic, co-curricular, and family obligations, you have been welcomed to college or university communities and your path to a bright future. Now you get to choose; but how do you go about it? Here are some tips, and of course, remember you can also consult your college or school counselor.

1. Decide about any waitlists and focus on your options.

If you are on a waitlist for admission, follow any directions to reaffirm interest should you wish to pursue it. Then, set the matter aside and focus on making a choice among the available options. If you decline a waitlist offer, you might create an option for someone who would like to have it. You can withdraw your application to any school where you have been wait-listed or admitted and are no longer interested. Think of those who will benefit from your anonymous gift.

2. Be creative about researching colleges and universities.

Not being able to visit colleges and universities in person is a hassle, but there are work-arounds. Some are offering visits by appointment, and others may do so in the near future. Virtual tours and admitted student online events can help as well. Reach out to current college students to get a diversity of opinions. You can contact the administrators and student leaders in identity and affinity groups (sometimes via social media) to learn what campus life is really like and what kind of community resources are available. Some colleges and universities are extending the May 1 enrollment confirmation deadline, creating more time for you to research and weigh your options. Stay in touch with the undergraduate admissions offices via their websites. Most have admission reps designated by territory. Email this person with your questions or concerns. Don’t hesitate to reach out and pose questions to admissions and financial aid counselors and to follow up with them. They want you to enroll and are eager to help.

3. Weigh your options and lean on your wise advisors.

Ask yourself, “What is the current state of my interests and plans, and have they changed, or have I changed, in the past year? What do I think now about the size, cost, diversity and inclusion, distance from home, academic and career opportunities, co-curricular life, virtual or in person learning, and surrounding community of my college or university options? What kind of residential life suits me, and are learning/living communities available? Would more research lead me to a destination that will feel like a second home? Am I choosing based on vague reasons or thoughtful analysis?” Some students organize the pros, cons, and offerings of each college or university on a spreadsheet. Also, now is the time to turn to the wise advisers in your life. Instead of asking them where you ought to enroll, consider asking, “Would you describe my strengths and interests?” You can take it from there.

4. If you’re undecided about your college major or college life, reach out directly to professors, administrators, or college students.

Many students are undecided about their major or career, and that’s fine. At the same time, you’ve probably narrowed it down or have combinations in mind, and that’s all you need to launch your college major research. But how do you get started? Email your admission counselor or just email the academic department(s) at your prospective school. Ask if you can communicate with a professor in your preferred field of study or an upper-level student majoring in that field. These conversations could be game-changers.

5. Check in with the Career Planning Office.

One of your most vital resources is the career planning office. Call or email them as well, tell them the majors/minors that most interest you, and ask what they can do to guide and assist students with your particular interests. What are their services for internships, alumni networks, popular companies that interview, summer jobs, interest surveys, resume and interview services, and career/professional school placement? Estimate all the time and money you and your family will invest in your undergraduate experience. After you have caught your breath, ask yourself whether your outcome in four short years is worth some college major and career planning. You should build a working relationship with your school’s career planning department no later than your first semester.

6. Consider how you’ll finance college.

Let’s introduce the elephant in the room: Money. Money isn’t everything, but it’s very important. Choices you make now will profoundly affect your future financial life. Low interest college loans can enable futures that would otherwise be out of reach. At the same time, consider that, in 2019, the average debt for Georgia college graduates was more than $28,000. Consider the impact of debt on your early career and what it will mean for your lifestyle, freedom, and graduate or professional school choices. Ensure that you thoroughly understand the details of any financial awards; if you’re not sure, reach out to the financial aid office. If you have been invited to a school’s honors program, contact the program director to learn about all the enrichment it provides. If you haven’t been invited, find out how you might earn your way in after enrollment if that looks appealing.

Once you have enrolled and gravitate toward your academic major(s), speak with professors about departmental funds that could enhance your learning. Perhaps you could become a tutor or research/technical assistant. (What a terrific way to network with faculty!) After your first year, student jobs may open in the residence life office. Be creative: If you can construct a website, whip up tasty pastries, or bench press a car, you can make money. Also, consider the potential earning power of your college major. If you are planning a major in the humanities, social sciences, or fine arts, that’s great; yet it might be a good idea to consider adding a minor or double-major in something like computer science, business, natural science, or communications. The good news is that colleges and universities are more flexible than ever at helping you tailor your undergraduate experience to your particular needs and plans.

7. Keep going, and keep your sense of humor.

While these tips are a good starting place, there is so much guidance available, including recommended reading.

Websites:

https://www.cappex.com/greenlight

https://www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org/

General guides:

The Truth About College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together by Brennan Bernard and Rick Clark; There Is Life After College by Jeffrey Selingo; Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be; and Colleges Worth Your Money by Belasco, Bergman, and Trivetto.

Remember, these simple words will see you through many challenges: Own your education, keep up, and keep a sense of humor!

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