How to decide? Making the final college choice

How to decide? Making the final college choice

Here at CollegiateParent, quite a few of us are the parents of high school and college students. A year ago, three of us had high school seniors who’d applied to college and were spending late March/early April finalizing their college choices. Campus visits had taken us to both coasts and points in between and the time had come to sift through the impressions, photos and facts.

If you’re in this situation, we hope our ideas for creating a chart to compare and contrast the schools will be helpful. You could make an Excel or Google spreadsheet or go low-tech and map everything out on a white board or big piece of paper.

Annette found this exercise was not only practical but also helped relieve some of the angst:

“My younger daughter didn’t receive all her admission decisions until April 1. She had to choose quickly among her ‘final four’ by May 1. That was a big decision in a short time! To remove some of the emotion from the process, she created an Excel spreadsheet to list criteria and then weighted them for a final score for each of her potential schools.

Some of the criteria seem straightforward, but some were very subjective, and others were surprising… My athletic second daughter wanted to be sure there was a dojo nearby where she could practice judo. Two years earlier, my tentative first child wanted a friend of the family to be within 30 minutes of campus and a major airport, with direct flights to home, within one hour.”

Choose from and add to this list to customize!


  Location (urban, suburban, rural)
  Physical size of campus (how far to walk from end to end?)
  Desired programs of academic study

  Cost: Total Cost of Attendance (tuition, room & board, fees, travel, etc.) minus financial aid/scholarships = your family’s actual cost
  Access to public transportation and airport
  Quality of on-campus housing
  Requirement to live on campus for 2 years vs 1, or on-campus housing guaranteed all 4 years
  Female/male ratio
  Class size
  Ratio of students to faculty
  Quarter vs semester system
  Course credit for AP/IB?
  Are there graduate programs?
  Student social life
  Greek Life
  Study Abroad options; will scholarship dollars and financial aid transfer to an abroad program?
  Community service
  Freshman retention rate, 6-year graduation rate
  Acceptance rate
  Ranking on various lists (Forbes Best Value Colleges, US News & World Report, etc.)
  Amenities on campus and in the nearest town


Just as important as the academic and campus offerings is the availability of amenities to keep them happy and healthy. Says Annette, “My first child is a foodie, so the quality of the dining hall food and the availability of good restaurants in town was important. My second child loves horses and swimming so she wanted to be somewhere she could work and/or ride at a stable and also wanted a nice pool on campus.” Ask your student to consider what sports, cultural offerings, clubs and activities make them happy. Will the school/college town they are considering support their interests?

Then there is that “feeling.” The feeling that this is the campus. They can see themselves there. Spreadsheets and data are important, but students also have to listen to their hearts.

Prepare to be surprised by this process. Sometimes a school comes from behind and overtakes the previous top choice. The most essential thing is that your student is excited to be college-bound. This is what they’ve been working toward and want. They are sure to thrive wherever they land.





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