I’m getting lots of DMs and questions about how to choose this school or that school or how to appeal financial aid or how to handle the opinions of others. I’m gonna try to cover as much as I can here in this one mega post. Not gonna lie, this post is almost absurdly long, but that’s because there’s so much information to share with you. Scroll through to find what you’re looking for. (Topics: Visits, Making a Decision, Financial Aid Appeals Resources, Imposter Syndrome, Dealing with Parents, Dealing with Others. )

THIS IS IT

You’ve spent a lot of time and effort, and dealt with loads of stress to get to that confetti-filled computer screen, but you’re not quite done. You might have to choose between schools. There might be people who want to weigh in on your decision. Or maybe even it just hasn’t gone your way.

So, take your application decisions, look at yourself, and take a deep breath.

Keep in mind that college is what you make of it. Always remember this: You are the dream, not the college and you’re bringing that dream—you—with you wherever you go. You’re bringing your badass self to some lucky college no matter what college you ultimately choose. They’re the lucky ones.

LEARN MORE ABOUT COLLEGES

You have to go with what feels right for you when making your decision, but that starts with learning as much as you can about a college.  I suggest you make every effort to visit a college and then find a bench and just sit there and observe, listen, and tap into what feels right for you. I call that the Bench Test. But now that so many colleges have virtual info, while I still suggest an on-campus visit if at all possible, you can also jump into virtual offerings and delve into what you need and what works best for you in other ways. Also, check out these ideas for figuring out what feels best to you:

  1. Follow them on social media — especially Instagram and Twitter — they’re putting out great info every day.
  2. Read the college websites and school newspaper.
  3. Make a sample course schedule for the fall. Find classes and professors that interest you.
  4. Reach out to their admissions offices. Ask questions. See if they have connections with current students.
  5. Chat with some students on their subreddit if it’s active and ask questions. Or Reach out on Instagram. Follow their stories and live streams. They frequently have students doing AMAs. There are no right or wrong answers to your questions because it’s all about what you’re interested in and what works best for you. Sample Questions: What do you like most? What do you like least? What do you do on a Saturday afternoon? What are your friends doing? What do you do on a Wednesday night? What might your friends be doing? What would you change?

MAKING THE FINAL DECISION

Making a decision is stressful and it can be easy to want to jump on the idea of getting everyone’s opinions about your future. However, while I think it’s good to get feedback about specific schools (and I try to give feedback too when I can), I don’t think you should be making your decision based on what strangers on the internet say you should choose because it is such a personal/family decision. This is something no one can decide for you. If you’re having a hard time, here are a few tricks you can use to help you decide:

  • Finances: My opinion: I don’t think anyone should be taking on debt if you have the option of attending college without it. But, if you are considering debt, a“rule” of thumb I’ve heard is not to take on more total debt for all four years than your potential first-year salary — so for those of you looking to grad school, especially med and law school, you really want the minimum amount of debt possible. And don’t hesitate to try to appeal your financial aid. I’ve heard of many success stories over the years. The worst that could happen is they’ll tell you no. Go to the next section to find resources for negotiating or appealing financial aid.
  • Visits/Virtual Visits: Visit in person if possible or do the virtual visits and tours and explore the colleges’ websites. Examine their motto, peruse their social media, and the school newspaper. Does it fit your life and your philosophy? Do you see activities and classes and research you want to take part in?
  • Pros and Cons: This one is my favorite! Make an oversized list of pros and cons on paper for each school. Like, make it poster-sized. Put the name of the school at the top and then list all the pros and cons that you can think of for each school. Consider aspects like finances, culture, vibe, departments, honors, social, academics, geography, weather, surrounding area, travel from, and distance from home. Put it on your wall and leave it there for a few days so you can look it over and add and subtract from it as you absorb the thoughts. Hang out with these lists for a few days and add to them as you think of something. When one has more cons than pros take it down.
  • Spreadsheet: Excel the sh!t out of it and compare, compare compare. I have a sample for you to use to think about what you might want to compare. Here’s a link of mine if you want to use it. Be sure to copy and save in your name so they don’t get mixed up.
  • Do the 10/10/10 test: Ask yourself: “How will I feel about my decision in 10 hours? 10 weeks? 10 years?”
  • Tell a Few: Make a choice. Tell your parents and maybe a few friends, and sleep on it. What’s your gut feeling? Does it feel right? If so, go for it. If not, rethink.
  • Coin Toss: Try the coin toss trick. Assign a side of the coin to a school and toss it. What are you secretly hoping for before it lands? That’s your school. Tell your parents and a couple of friends. Then sleep on it. How do you feel?
  • Gut Check: What’s keeping you up at night? Sit in silence for 15 minutes and focus on your breath — What thoughts are floating by? What’s your gut telling you?

FINANCIAL OPTIONS AREN’T WORKING OUT

I know this year that FAFSA is a huge mess and many colleges are delaying their decision days, thank goodness.  But it still might be handy to have these Resources for Financial Aid Appeal on hand in case it doesn’t work out the way you expected: I haven’t personally used either of these websites, but I’ve heard from other counselors and consultants that they can be helpful:

Other Helpful Resources, Links, and Articles

DEPOSIT FEE WAIVER?

If paying the deposit is a barrier to you, NACAC usually has a deposit fee waiver, you can apply for. Check with your school counselor if you need this.

YOU DESERVE IT — DEALING WITH IMPOSTER SYNDROME

Sometimes amazing teens reach out to me who’ve had great success with their applications. They’ve been accepted to the schools they’ve worked so hard to be accepted to. Yet, to them, it still doesn’t feel right. They wonder why they were accepted over others. This is called Imposter Syndrome, and it can really f@ck with your brain if you let it. Remember though: it’s just a feeling. Here’s the deal: You are good enough. Colleges, especially highly selective colleges, spend a lot of time and resources evaluating applications. They don’t often screw up. If they feel like you can handle the work — you can. Look, there will always be people who have stronger this and better that. That’s never going away. Those colleges took you because you are you. That’s what they wanted. Congrats on your amazing acceptances! You are gonna kill it in college.

DEALING WITH PARENTS

In the past, I’ve had kids ask me about what to do when they and their parents really disagree about the decision. My advice: communicate. Do your research, make a presentation that covers all the concerns your parents may have — future career options, cost and financial aid, internships, professors, class size, distance from home. Think about what they are worried about and then try to address those worries with your research. Ask them to give you some time and then present your research to them. Listen to them respectfully and ask them to do the same. Repeat their concerns back to them, so they know you are listening and understand.

DON’T LET ANYONE MAKE YOU FEEL BAD ABOUT YOUR CHOICE

Sometimes, others will try to make you feel bad about your choice. All you need to worry about is that you’re going to a school that best serves you. Wear that college t-shirt proudly and slap those stickers on your laptop! Be proud of your achievements, because believe me, going to college is a huge achievement, and you should be excited about this new path you’ve found for yourself.

Most of all, don’t accept the words of anyone who tries to denigrate your college choice. It’s rude and, frankly, none of their business. As in most things, my advice is “You do you.” Here’s a story I love from Neil Pasricha’s The Happiness Equation adapted by my son, Joseph.

It’s all about Buddha’s philosophy concerning the value we give to other people’s words:

Buddha spent a lot of his time wandering around and teaching folks about how to live a good life. One day he was going about his business, sitting under the Bodhi tree, spreading his ideas when another Brahman, let’s call him Fred, got all up in Buddha’s face and said, “Hey, man, who said your ideas are right? You’re not as smart as you think you are.”

Buddha sat silently and smiled at Fred, only making Fred’s cheeks grow red with rage. Fred spoke up again, “Hey! I’m talking to you! Stop smiling at me, freak.”

Buddha kept smiling and then replied, “Do you ever have guests at your house?”

“Yeah, of course,” Fred answered.

Buddha then asked, “And when you have guests, do you give them snacks, maybe some chips and dip?”

Fred replied, “Of course! I’m not about being a bad host.”

Then Buddha chuckled wisely, “Well, if your guest says they don’t want some chips, like they’re not hungry or something, then to whom do those chips belong?”

“Uhhhh, weird question,” Fred retorted. “But I guess me.”

“Well,” Buddha said, still smiling, “just as your guest didn’t accept those chips, I’m not accepting your hateful words, and so those words are yours and not mine.”

“Whoa,” Fred said, “Mind. Blown.”

WHAT IF IT JUST ISN’T WORKING OUT SO FAR?

I know some of you aren’t worried about making a choice yet because you’re still worried about where/if your application will be accepted. If your application acceptances or finances didn’t go your way, you do have options still. You can:

  1. apply to some of the many amazing colleges that are still accepting apps. NACAC will be putting out a list soon with college openings
  2. take a gap year
  3. attend community college for a year.
  4. And if you find yourself juggling a waitlist or two, here’s the link to that post.
  5. Finally, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and depressed, please check out my post from last week: Hey Seniors, if your application decisions disappointed, it can really hurt.

tl;dr

  • Application acceptance is a stellar accomplishment. Be proud of yourself!
  • If you’re struggling to decide between a few schools, visit them in person or virtually visit them all. Make a pros and cons list. Tell a very select few people which school you’ve chosen, and then sleep on it to see how you feel.
  • Don’t accept the words of those busybodies who think they have the right to be rude about your college choice. Be like the Buddha, and let those words roll off you.
  • Imposter syndrome is when you feel like you don’t deserve the successes you’ve earned. It is a feeling and it can be hard to shake. Don’t let it mess with you. You are worthy.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate or appeal your financial aid
  • There are still a shit ton of amazing colleges accepting applications – many of them with money for stellar students like you – see below
  • Also, be sure to check out u/ScholarGrade’s amazing post about how to get to May
  • You can watch my live stream with Mark Boerckel from Better College Apps or better known as u/ScholarGrade on Reddit from last year. You can find the link to it here

XOXO AdmissionsMom (as always, I’m available to answer questions the best I can – preferably here in the comments so others can learn from your questions!)