My College:
High School

How to Choose "The One" (Without a Final Campus Visit)

Shari Bender

The results are in.

Your high school senior has heard back from the schools they applied to. Rejections may have left a sting, but now it's time to focus on the "yesses" and get ready for the College Commitment.

The process is going to look different this year because of the coronavirus. The spread of COVID-19 has caused many schools to cancel on-campus admitted student programs, and it's likely that more colleges and universities will change or cancel their normal admitted student activities.

This is understandable but disappointing, because visiting days can be an important part of a student’s decision-making process. My kids and I loved attending admitted student days. The tables are turned, and the college is now courting you and your child. Swag and fanfare are the norm. If you can take advantage of these open houses, I recommend it. CDC precautions should be followed — review these recommendations with your child before visiting a campus.

Cynics will tell you that a lot of what goes on at admitted student days is glorified sales pitch, but in my experience there's no question that attending can fuel your student's excitement about and understanding of an institution. Your student also gets a chance to absorb the energy of a school.

My oldest child narrowed her choices down to two and ended up selecting her college in the final hour. In the end it came down to a “feeling” from her time at admitted student days, and now — nearly a year after her graduation — we couldn’t have imagined a better fit. My younger child and I traveled by car to a handful of admitted student days. Drives were long but bonding time was precious and admitted student days were key in his decision-making process.

Even if a school has canceled formal admitted student days, you may still be able to arrange for a visit on your own. Go to the Admissions website or call the office to see if COVID-19 has affected their calendar of spring campus information sessions and tours. Even a self-guided tour of campus will help your child experience connection to the school.

Virtual Admitted Student Experiences

If you're tight on time and money, or COVID-19 restrictions have made visiting a school impossible, there are other ways to get a “feel” remotely.

Go online for a virtual tour and explore the college's website and any available videos. Many colleges are increasing their online footprint and social media presence as they contemplate scaling back in-person admitted student activities. Sites like CollegeReel are another fun way to explore a campus remotely.

If you have a connection to a student at the school (even a friend of a friend of a friend), have your child shoot them a text telling them they are considering attending the school, and ask if they have a few minutes to talk about their experience. Most college kids I know are happy to give a prospective student a glimpse into life on campus and answer any questions.

If you don't have a connection to the school, reach out to the Admissions office and see if they can arrange for your teen to speak with a current student who shares some of their academic and/or extracurricular interests. They should also be able to help your student get in touch with a faculty member in the major or program they're considering.

Whether your child is choosing among just a few colleges or six (or more), there are ways to help cull their list. Here are some pointers.

Gather Pen and Paper

There is something about actually writing things down that helps foster a connection to the topic at hand. Put your phones away — no texts or social media notifications to distract your teen (or you).

Make a Pro and Con List for Each School

Some general things to consider:

Cost: Compile financial aid packages and any scholarships given. Include the approximate costs of flying to and from school, if applicable, as this can add considerable costs. Cost Pros and Cons are something you will have sizeable input in, since you are the one most likely footing the bill.

Location: Proximity to home, regional weather and environment (rural, suburban, city) are all things to evaluate. It’s super easy to insert our own feelings here, but tread lightly. Even if scary large city statistics make you scream "Con!", if your teen thinks the big city life is for them, it’s a Pro.

Intended Major: Delve deeper into the core curriculum and explore other facets of the school. If your student isn’t sure of their path, or if they change their mind, it’s good to pick a school with matched interests across the board.

Size of School: Small, Medium or Large. Is your teenager gravitating towards the large Ra-Ra Division 1 school or do they feel they are a better fit for small liberal arts college?

Hopefully after a focused Pro/Con session, the list is down to 2–4 finalists. The formula for the winners is simple: select the final choices based on which has more Pros than Cons. Then you’re ready for those virtual or in-person visits.

Also to consider: waitlist status. There are inherent Pros and Cons to remaining on the waitlist. If the waitlist choice is your child’s “dream school,” it makes sense to remain on the waitlist if they are still committed to going there. But statistics are often not in the students favor, and staying on a waitlist complicates the college commitment.

Deciding Between the Final Two

Sometimes after this exercise, it's obvious to your student which college is “the One.” Often, though, they'll be deciding between the Final Two.

A useful trick for the Final Two is this: For a full 24 hours, your child puts themselves at School #1. From imagining the Instagram post, telling an inquiring neighbor about their selection, and seeing themselves on campus, 24 hours of thoughts are committed to be a student at School #1. The next 24-hour period is all about School #2. Likely after this experiment your child will know which simply felt better, so in the end, after the carefully calculated Pros and Cons, they can select “the One” with their heart.

When and if your student gets too stressed about all this ("What if I pick the wrong school?"), you can assure them that this commitment is momentous but not necessarily final. They're making the best choice they can based on what they know of the college, and their perceived fit within that institution. Statistics vary, but it appears that up to 25% of students transfer schools. Kids need to be reminded (they are still kids after all) that they can be happy and thrive at any of the schools that have offered them admission. Keep that in mind if your child’s final choice is not the one you would have picked for them.

Shari earned her BA in Communication from Stanford University in 1992 and currently works as Communication and Marketing Director for a large electrical firm on Long Island. Shari is a cat-loving spiritual vegan who is embracing her empty-nesting along with her husband of 27 years. Her musings delight parents on multiple online platforms, including Grown & Flown and CollegiateParent.
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