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College Decisions Are In: How To Decide Where You’ll Attend

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

After filling out all your applications, writing a million essays, interviewing, and going through the dreaded waiting game, all your college admissions decisions are finally in and it’s time to decide where you want to go. 

If you applied to over 10 schools like me, there is a lot to consider and compare: school size, campus culture, rankings, programs, on-campus activities, location, financial aid packages, and more. 

After having already committed to college, I am here to help you break down exactly what to do to make a decision you’re confident about.

1. Compare Your Financial Aid Packages

You probably received your financial aid package in the mail a few weeks after your acceptance letter came out, complete with complicated language, numbers, and percentages. 

Despite sending in the same application for every school, you most likely received different financial aid packages. There are so many factors that influence how much money a certain school gives you, and it’s important to be able to interpret which school is most affordable for you.

Let’s break down what is found in most financial aid packages and how to apply this to making your decision: 

  • Cost of Attendance (COA). Your Cost of Attendance, sometimes abbreviated as COA, is a rough estimate of what it will cost the average student per year to attend without aid, loans, or scholarships factored in. It includes things such as tuition, room and board, transportation, books, and assorted fees. 
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your Expected Family Contribution, also known as EFC, determines how much your family is expected to financially contribute to your education after taking into account their untaxed income, assets, and benefits. On your award package, you’ll see your EFC in the form of federal loans from the government you or your family can take out to help you afford school.
  • Net Cost. Your net cost is the Cost of Attendance (COA) minus any scholarships or grants you received from your university. This is what you’ll be expected to pay per year.
  • Scholarships/Grants. Scholarships are awarded for academic achievement, sports, financial need, and many other reasons. You can receive them from your school or outside private organizations. Unlike federal or private loans, scholarships and grants never have to be paid back. Sometimes, they can even cover your full cost of attendance if you get really lucky.

When you’re comparing financial aid packages from different schools, look for the lowest cost of Cost of Attendance and highest scholarships and grants. 

If you look everything over and feel that it’s still not financially possible for you to attend any of your schools, you have the ability to appeal your financial aid offers. Check out our article on that process here.

Your Guide to Financial Aid Terminology

2. Tour Campus One Last Time

When you step on campus, you’ll learn so many things about the school that you just can’t experience by searching it online or going to virtual events. From my own personal experience, I found touring schools to be super helpful in narrowing down my choices. 

There were a few schools that I loved online, but when I saw them in-person, I found they weren’t right for me. On the flip side, there were some schools that I wasn’t very interested in, but when I went on campus, they immediately went to the top of my list. 

Some schools also offer overnight stays for prospective students so they can immerse themselves in the community. Overnight stays are great if you’re really stuck in between two schools because it will be as close to your actual college experience as you can get without actually being enrolled.

3. Connect With Your Admissions Counselor Or Current Students

Your assigned admissions counselor will be your best source of information when it comes to questions you might have about your major, dorm life, and many other things. 

However, if you find that talking to an admissions counselor is nerve-wracking at first, reach out to a current student at that school. Many schools now offer texting or chat programs with current students for seniors still exploring their options.

Talking with someone who’s almost your age and recently went through the same decision process themselves is a great opportunity to get their perspective and start forming important connections.

When comparing schools, keep an eye out for the ones that made you feel comfortable and welcome when connecting with various departments. 

4. Determine What Things Are Most Important To You In A School

The truth of the matter is that no school is perfect. There will always be somethings that you dislike, but the goal is to find a school that you could really see yourself enjoying for the next four years even if every box is not checked for you. 

Make a list with your top 5 requirements for every school. These could be things like size, location, majors offered, affordability, and anything else you find important in your decision. 

Then, apply this list to each school you’ve been accepted to. If a school meets fewer than three of these requirements, cross it off your list. For the schools that meet four or five of these requirements, start making sublists about other things that are important to you but less vital. Think of things like free parking, good dining hall food, or what you can do for fun on and off campus.

When you’re finished comparing all your schools with the sublist, you should be left with one or two. If there’s only 1, you’ve found your school! If not, make a pros and cons list.

By using a pros and cons list, you’ll be able to better visualize things you liked about a school and things you’re not super keen on, ultimately coming to a more wise and well-informed decision.

5. When In Doubt, Go With Your Gut

If you’re still stuck, that’s okay! Deciding on where you’ll spend the next four years of your life is a huge decision, and there are so many factors to consider. You aren’t expected to know everything, so make sure to use your outside resources like friends, family, coaches, or guidance counselors

When it comes time to decide, do what feels right for you and only you. It’s your education, career, and future.

Go with your gut and what feels right in your heart. It’ll lead you exactly where you’re supposed to be. 

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What To Do After You've Made Your College Decision

Author: Norah Baldwin

Norah is a high school senior from Boston, Massachusetts, and will major in Nursing next year at college. She currently works as a lifeguard and swim instructor for kids, and volunteers with the American Cancer Society in addition to blogging for Niche.