Advice Column: April

By: Miyako Iwata

I’ve gotten all my college decisions back. How should I pick which school to go to?

First of all: Congratulations! You’ve officially finished the hardest part of the college application process. Now it’s just a matter of finding the place that is the right fit for you.

However, this is much easier said than done. With so many competing factors, the task of committing to one school can be a daunting one.

To start off, you should whittle down your list of colleges to your top three or (ideally) top two schools. This should be pretty easy; most people end up applying to a few “safety” schools in which they aren’t invested, so those places can be crossed off first.

Another simple way to eliminate colleges you’re on the fence about is to look at national rankings in different areas of study. Basically, whether your intended pursuit of study is Engineering or English, you should research which schools have the strongest academic programs for that topic.

Let’s say you want to do Psychology research over the next four years: College X might be ranked higher in the U.S. World and News Report National Universities, but College Y may be listed as a top five school by the American Psychological Association for research activity. So while more prestigious schools often do have better programs, that isn’t necessarily the case, and your decisions shouldn’t be based solely on the reputation of a school. You might end up unhappy if you choose to go somewhere just for the name recognition.

Next, take a look at your remaining schools and try visualizing yourself at each place for about 10 to 15 minutes. If you’ve already visited the campus in your junior year or earlier, this should be no problem. If you haven’t been, it’s time to get a real sense of what the campus vibe is like. Most colleges hold an “admitted students weekend,” which is exactly what it sounds like. As long as cost doesn’t pose too much of an issue, you should try to visit the campus as a part of said program or on your own. You might end up loving a place that you weren’t expecting to, or vice versa. And consider revisiting schools you’ve already been to; your impression of a certain college could change drastically based on the fact that you’re seeing it through the lens of an admitted student.

Now comes the tough part: Cost.

This is a conversation that every family should have before the college application process even starts. At this point, you should know how much your family is willing to contribute towards your college education. With that in mind, consider your financial aid options for each school you were accepted to. Did you qualify for merit aid somewhere? Which college gave you the best offer? Make sure that you weigh these options in light of the quality of the education and experience you will get at each college. Sometimes, it can be worth graduating with a manageable amount of debt for a higher-quality education and a better career payoff.

Once you study these key factors for each school, the “best fit” should become more and more obvious to you. Aside from that, you can look into the location and setting of the college (urban vs. rural), as well as the weather there. At the end of the day, it’s about picking a place where you’re going to be happy for what might be the best four years of your life.

I got rejected from my top choice school. What should I do?

Getting denied from your dream school sucks — no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

First and foremost, it’s important that you let yourself feel sad about it. There’s really no other way to process the feelings of disappointment and frustration that inevitably come with a  rejection letter. It might seem impossible not to take the decision personally, and that’s OK. Just make sure you don’t dwell on it for too long.

Once you move past “denial” or “bargaining” and arrive at the “acceptance” phase, it’s time to buckle down and choose a college out of the schools you were accepted to (see above). Chances are, you got into some amazing schools that you could really click with. Most colleges require that you commit by May 1, so take care of that in a timely manner.

Most of the adults in your life will probably tell you that you should focus on taking pride in your accomplishments over the past four years — and they’re right. It’s pretty self-explanatory, and lots of op-eds have been written about it (look up Frank Bruni), so we’ll leave it at that.

At this point, though, the best thing you can do for yourself is to end your high school career having a good time. If you’ve never taken a free period in your schedule before, now might be the time to spring for an extra long lunch or a late start every day. And don’t forget to hang out with the friends you’ve made in high school; it’s your last chance to enjoy their company before graduation.

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