3 Questions to Ask When Making Your Final College Decision

The ProcessThe tables have turned. You have spent years trying to figure out how to impress colleges, and now colleges will spend the next month trying to convince you to enroll. They will send you gifts and fancy pamphlets. They will call you and invite you to special programs.

You have until May 1st to decide, so how do you sort through all of the information you are receiving? How do you know that you are making the best final college choice?

The truth is that making your final college decision is not an exact science, and it is going to be a different process for every student, however below are a few questions every student should ask as they are comparing final college options.

1. Which college is the best fit for you academically?

Academics are the center of your college experience. For some students, academic “fit” is a particular major. For others, it is having adequate support systems (i.e. tutoring or academic advising). It is important to know what type of student you are to determine if a college is a good fit for you academically. Here are some specific questions to ask about the academic aspects of college:

  • What is the core curriculum of each school? Will you be required to take specific courses that you may struggle with (i.e. math or foreign language)?

  • Do you know what you want to major? If so, research that academic department. Read the faculty bios and look at the required courses. Are there opportunities to explore your major outside of the classroom (i.e. conduct research, internships, etc.)

  • If you don’t know what you want to major, determine how each college will help you make that decision. How much access will you have to an academic advisor? Will the career center help you explore different career options? Does the general curriculum allow you to take courses in multiple disciplines so you can nail down what academic subjects interest you?

  • What is the academic environment of each college? Are students competitive with each other or supportive? Are the classes large or mainly discussion based? Do professors meet with students outside of class?

Knowing what type of academic environment you need to be academically successful is an important consideration for your final college choice.

2. How do the colleges compare financially?

It is essential to understand all of your financial aid awards when making your final college choice. So what should you consider when comparing awards?

  • Determine your budget. Every financial aid award should give you an example student budget. The budget should include an amount for tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and travel/transportation. If this information is not in your financial aid award, contact the college and ask for it.

  • Once you determine your suggested budget, figure out if your needs will change aspects of the budget. For example, if are you looking at colleges out of state, your transportation budget might be higher (depending on how often you want to fly home). If you are looking at specific major that requires addition expenses, you need to take that into consideration. If you are thinking of living off-campus, your room and board and personal expenses may change.

  • Check on the details of each aspect of your financial aid award (grants, scholarships, loans, work-study, etc.). When do you have to pay back each loan? What is the interest rate? Is the scholarship just for the first year or for all four years? If the scholarship is renewable, what does the student need to do to keep it (usually it is maintaining a certain GPA)?

  • Make sure you understand the difference between taking out federal and private loans. If you need to take out private loans, do your research. Learn the true cost of student loans by using a loan calculator to determine how much your loan will be once you pay it off.

  • Determine the actual cost of each college. Create a spreadsheet or use an on-line tool to determine the final net price of each school.

Once you have the final cost in front of you, that may be the determining factor in your final decision. For other families, it is more complicated. More often than not, your “dream school” is going to cost more. It means student debt and financial strain for the parents. It is important to have an honest conversation about what debt will mean for the student and the entire family.

3. Which college is the best fit for your everyday life?

Remember you are not just visiting a college anymore, you are going to live there. You will eat, sleep and exist in an entirely new environment. Here are some important questions to ask you look to transition to this next phase of your life.

  • Consider location. How far away from home will you be? Will be it be a different environment than what you are used to (i.e. urban vs. rural)? Will it is important to step outside of your location comfort zone for the “right” college, you need to consider how location will change how you currently live.

  • Where will you feel at “home” at the college? Making sure a college feels comfortable is important. Can you continue habits you have already formed (i.e. exercising, hiking, etc.)? Are there clubs and organizations are offered that match your interest? Is there an opportunity (i.e. a church, non-profit organization, etc.) in the surrounding area that will help feel like a part of the community?

  • Are you too focused on the amenities? So many colleges are trying to emphasize extra services (i.e. room service and valet parking), but are these things going to help you be successful in college? Are they going to help you explore your intellectual interest or develop the skills you need to hold down a job?

  • Does the overall mission of the college a match to your personal goals? Is the school striving to teach “global citizens” or “critical thinkers”? If so, how have they integrated that mission into the curriculum and community? How does the mission of the college correspond with your goals for your future?

Making your final college choice can be stressful, but if you take the time to make sure all to find answers to all of your questions, you will be able to make a well-informed choice.

Thoughts on the New SAT From the People Who Matter- Students

On Saturday, March 5th, the new SAT was finally administered to over 300,000 lucky students. PBS NewsHour provided a comprehensive overview of the changes made to the test and the continued debate about the validity of standardized testing as an accurate predictor of student success. While educators (and the media) continue to deliberate about the validity of the tests, students seemed focused on one thing: getting through it.

Jed Applerouth, from Applerouth Tutoring Services, provided insights from the students who utilized the company’s services. In his article, he quotes students who took the old SAT and the new SAT.

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Bubble style test form
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Overall, students stated that the “wordiness” of the math section was challenging, and the non-calculator math section proved to be difficult.

CNN.com also reported on a survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep and an official survey administered by The College Board. Based on the numbers from the two surveys, students seem to be reporting that the new SAT is about what they expected. The College Board survey is reporting “by a 6 to 1” margin that students prefer the new SAT.

Additionally, USA Today reported that an astounding one million high school students have used free online test prep tools to prepare for the new SAT.   This new number shows that Khan Academy is reaching huge numbers of students- more than commercial test prep.   However, the Boston Globe reported on the huge jump in revenue for the commercial test prep industry, which is expected to reach $200 billion worldwide by 2020.

Overall, the new SAT seems to be living up to expectations- good or bad. It is more aligned with what students are learning in the classroom and all students have access to high-quality, free test prep through Khan Academy. Whether or not the new SAT is an accurate predictor of student success, well, we will just have wait and see.

 

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#1 Tip For Students Beginning the College Process

SALE 1.46.04 PM (1)Whether a student has dreamed of attending a certain college since the age of 5 or has not even thought about what they want from their college experience, I always give students who are beginning the college process the same piece of advice: Do “practice” college visits.

It is difficult to expect students to articulate any thoughts about the college process if they have never been on a college campus. Doing “practice” college visits is a practical way for students to begin formulating an opinion on what they are looking for in their college experience.

To do “practice” college visits, you don’t need to spend a lot of money and travel across the country to see “best” university out there. You should begin with a college that is within driving distance of your home.  The purpose of a “practice” visit is to collect general information, rather than expressing interest in that particular college.  The student can be adamant that they won’t apply to the college or university  you visit (and that is perfectly fine).

When planning a “practice” visit, you need to register for the information session and campus tour through the admissions page of the college’s website. Many schools offer Saturday visit times, so look at your schedule and simply pick a day to attend.

Look for local colleges that can offer varying perspectives. Visit a small, medium and large university to gain perspective on size. Try to visit rural, urban and suburban schools to learn how locations vary.

As you visit campuses, pay attention to:

  1. The size. Whether it is a small liberal arts college or a large research institution, you can usually tell immediately if you are comfortable with the size of the school.
  2. The location. Is the college you are visiting in a city or near farmlands? What is the surrounding community like? Can you see yourself living there for four years?
  3. Academic programs offered. Since you are just beginning your college process, you may not have given a second thought to what you want to major in. During your “practice” visits, pay attention to the academic programs described. Are students doing research? Are they participating in hands-on projects? Are they working in the local community?  What catches your attention?  What majors do you want to learn more about?
  4. Note what you like- and what you don’t like. I always tell my students to document ALL of their impressions of a school. These insights can help you research additional options later on.

If you don’t have different types of colleges and universities near you, try to do a few visits while on a family vacation. Taking a road trip this summer? See what colleges are on the way to your final destination. Again, the point is not to spend a lot of money if you are just beginning to formulate ideas about your college process.

A “practice” visit should be relaxed- designed to ease the student into the idea of college. By doing a “practice” visit (or two) you will be able to shape your college criteria and then create a true list of schools you are interested in exploring.

Need more direction for your college process?  Check out the Ideal College Planning Timeline to get started!

Happy touring!

5 Ways to Handle Waiting for College Application Decisions

Seize the Day-2The applications, standardized test scores, recommendation letters, transcripts and perfect essays are submitted. Your applications are complete and all you can do now is wait.

Easy, right?

Noooo! Waiting for your admissions decisions can be the worst part of the admissions process. You check your email 20 times a day. You are stalking your mailbox and  your stomach drops every time someone asks, “Have you heard anything?”

If the stress of anticipating your college decisions is getting to you, here are 5 ways to keep your sanity:

1. Focus on what you have control over. Right now, application decisions are more than likely done (insert scream here). Admissions offices are just finalizing the details. At this point, you have little control over what your decision will be, so focus on what you do have control over.

  • Concentrate on your schoolwork (remember they will look at your final grades).

  • Thank everyone who wrote your letters of recommendation, edited your essays, or just offered advice (baked goods or chocolate are always appreciated).

  • Continue being involved in your extracurricular activities and start mentoring peers who will take over your leadership roles next year (they will be lost without you).

2. Process the stress- your way. Some people like to talk about how they are feeling and others don’t. If you want to discuss every possible outcome of your college decisions, find a trusted (and patient) individual to talk to. If you would prefer not to discuss the college process any further, tell everyone around you (so they will stop asking questions). If you don’t process out loud, write it down. Journaling is a great way to organize everything that is floating around in your head.

3. Don’t second-guess your list. You could lose a lot of sleep wondering, “What if?” Don’t think about the schools you didn’t apply to. Stop questioning if your “reach” school is too far out of reach. Have confidence in the list of schools you applied to. At this point it can be easy to forget all of the hours you spent researching, asking questions and even visiting colleges.

4. Remain positive. Part of remaining positive is knowing that you have a solid plan- not matter what happens. You may not be admitted to your “first choice” school, but knowing that you will have other options should be your main focus. If it helps, make a list of all the pros and cons of all of the schools you applied to. You may find that you have more positive options than you think.

5. Reflect. Look back on what you have accomplished. A year ago, you did not even know where you were going to apply. You have come a long way from staring at a blank Common Application.

Anticipating the future can be stressful, but in just a few short weeks, you will know. April 1st will be here before you know it and after that, you are back in control of your college process. You will make the final decision of where you will attend college- and all the anticipation will be worth it!