This time last year I was agonizing over what I was sure would be the hardest decision of my life: choosing which college to enroll in.
I had narrowed down my options to two colleges that I was absolutely in love with. I could picture myself on both campuses living out my ideal college experience. They were both great schools, and the idea of having to choose one and leave the other behind was tearing me up inside. I felt like I was alone in this feeling, but the truth is, there are thousands of high school seniors who feel the exact same way this time of year.
Society likes to romanticize the whole college commitment process, but it can be the most stressful time of your teenage life.
I remember seeing my friends post perfectly-posed pictures, beaming with happiness while decked out in their college apparel, their picturesque future campus serving as the backdrop to their college announcement. While I was happy for my friends, I was increasingly anxious as I felt the clock tick down to decision day. I had still yet to wrap my head around the fact that I was graduating high school, and leaving everything I had ever known behind. The idea of finding a new home that I believed would define the rest of my personal and professional life was stressful, to say the least. After all, I was 17 and had never had to make a decision that I felt would alter the course of my life.
Where you go to college does not define you.
I was lucky enough to get into schools that have great reputations, but the reality is that no matter where you go to college, you are going to be able to make the most out of your degree and be successful. My advice is to avoid unnecessary opinions about the colleges you are considering. This means staying off of all the forums and discussion boards where people trash colleges for no reason. These discussion boards are toxic, and I know that they negatively impacted my decision process. You need to make the decision for yourself because after all, you are the one who will be attending that college.
While you shouldn't hesitate to ask for advice from the people you love and trust, do not let their opinions be the deciding factor for you.
I was fortunate enough to know a few people who had chosen between the same two colleges that I had narrowed my decision down to; finding out why they chose either college was helpful to gather additional information, but I never let it heavily influence my feelings towards either school. This is the first step into adulthood for you, and it is important that you arrive at your decision in an intellectually independent manner so that you end up where you are supposed to be. That being said, there are multiple factors that helped me arrive at what I knew in my heart was the right decision.
Sadly, financial aid offers need to play an important role in your college decision.
You must weigh the cost of your attendance versus its benefits. With tuition on the rise, most prospective college students need some form of financial assistance in order to pay for their education. Tuition is sky-high at most private colleges, and no matter how much it hurts to think about it, the cost of your attendance must play a role in your decision. It might sound great to attend a prestigious institution with an impressive national reputation, but it might be better for you in the long run to attend a slightly lesser known institution that is more affordable. Calculating your expected student loan debt can be difficult mentally and emotionally, but you need to know what you are getting yourself into. Once you graduate, you will need to start paying off your loans so it is essential that you plan for that.
There are ways you can help ease the financial burden of college, but don't count on it.
Apply for as many scholarships as you can, and hope that it works out in your favor. If you have not already, appeal your financial aid offer. There is always a chance that your dream school could give you more money. If you are willing to take on more debt because you have fallen absolutely in love with a college, then that is a sacrifice that you must think long and hard about. I advise talking to your parents about the possible implications of incurring student loan debt are. In the end, you have to choose the college that is the right fit for you, and sometimes that means taking on more debt.
Focus on the feeling you had when you stepped onto the campus for the first time.
Think back to your first visit. What was your first impression of the college? I know the first time I visited my future college, I fell absolutely in love. I remember feeling heartbroken at the thought that I could possibly be rejected from there during the application process. I was determined to be admitted because I loved it so much. I told everyone who would listen about how great my visit was and how excited I was to apply and possibly visit again. If you don't really remember how you felt during that first visit, or you are reconsidering a school you previously looked over, I would recommend visiting again. Most importantly, attend accepted students day! I attended accepted students day at both schools I was seriously considering, and it was after visiting the 2nd one that I realized the first one was the right choice. I took one final visit before I officially committed to my college, that way I could be confident that I had made the right decision.
Focus on the academic program that you are interested in.
I know that when I was making my final college decision, I focused too heavily on the social scene and extracurriculars at my school. Don't forget that when you are deciding to go to college, you are deciding what training you want to receive for your future career. Academics are central to your college experience, so look for a program that you feel can set you up for success. If you're going in undecided, still take a look at the process involved in deciding your major, and check to see that there are a few that pique your interest.
Focus on the atmosphere of the campus.
Take time to imagine yourself on campus and explore how you would fit into the campus community. Yes, it may be a great school, but if you cannot see yourself thriving as a student there, it is not the place for you. College is a big transition, and it will be even harder if you are trying to change yourself in order to be accepted. FInd a place that welcomes you, a place where you can be planted and bloom. If it comes down to it, make a pros and cons list and weigh which factors are deal-breakers for you versus compromises that you can make. No school is perfect, but they may be perfect for you.
In the end, you know in your heart which school is right for you, and no matter what, you will end up in the place that you belong.