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How to Decide? Making the Final College Choice


Here at CollegiateParent, three of us are parents of current high school seniors who have applied to college and are spending this month finalizing their college decisions. Campus visits have taken us to both coasts and points in between. Now we are sifting 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 is finding that this exercise is not only practical but also helps relieve some of the angst:

"My daughter just learned on April 1 which colleges accepted her application. She needs to make a quick decision among her 'final four' by May 1. That’s 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 wants to be sure there is a dojo nearby where she can practice judo. Two years ago, 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!

  • Size
  • 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.)
  • Climate
  • 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 wants to be somewhere she can work and/or ride at a stable and desires 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 our kids also have to listen to their hearts.

So, here we go! We're ready to be surprised by this process, knowing that sometimes a school comes from behind and overtakes the previous top choice. The most essential thing is that our students are excited to be college-bound. This is what they have been working toward and want. They are sure to thrive wherever they land.

CollegiateParent supports you on your own personal journey during your student's college years. We answer questions, share stories and connect you to life on campus. Reach out to us at any time!
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