I keep seeing tons and tons of posts with this school or that school — I know it’s stressful — more this year than ever. 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. Here are some hints that might help no matter what schools you’re discussing.
So, normally my biggest piece of advice for making your college decision is to make every effort you can 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 this year, that advice is mostly off bounds, so you’re gonna have to delve into what you need and what works best for you in other ways.
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.
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. Just remember this is your choice.
So, take your acceptances, look at yourself, and take a deep breath.
LEARNING MORE ABOUT COLLEGES
Now comes the fun part — deciding which school to commit to. This is something no one can decide for you. You have to go with what feels right for you, but that starts with learning as much as you can about a college. If you’re having a hard time, here are a few tricks you can use to help you decide:
- Follow them on social media — they’re putting our great info, especially Instagram and Twitter — they’re putting out great info every day.
- Read their websites. Read their school newspaper.
- Make a sample course schedule for the fall. Find classes and professors that interest you.
- Reach out to their admissions offices. Ask questions. See if they have connections with current students.
- Chat with some students on their subreddit if it’s active and ask questions.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?
VIRTUAL TOURS (AND OTHER WAYS TO LEARN MORE ABOUT A CAMPUS)
The first place to start is the college’s own website. Many of them are working overtime to get virtual tours up for you. You can also see what kind of online programming the admissions offices are doing for you, the admitted students, like video chats and other online campus days.
Also, you can check out my website, CollegeVizzy. I’ve linked every website and tour I could find, including the youtube videos from colleges, campus reel, youniversitytv, niche.com, collegescoops, scoir, youvisit, art of college, and more. I also have links to their social media pages and subreddits just to get everything in one space for you ;)
MAKING THE FINAL DECISION
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 renegotiate your financial aid. We’ve had lots of success stories on here. The worst that could happen is they’ll tell you no. I haven’t personally used either of these websites, but I’ve heard from other counselors and consultants that they can be helpful: FormSwift and Merit More. Also, College Essay Guy has a great resource about how to write the financial aid appeal letter.
Virtual Visit: Do the virtual visits and tours linked above 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 shit out of it and compare, compare compare. I have a sample for you to use to think about what you might want to compare. Email me at email@example.com for a copy.
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?
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.”
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.
You deserve it — Dealing with Imposter Syndrome
Sometimes amazing teens will come onto our subreddit 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 fuck 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.
Need help making your deposit?
Here’s a link to deposit fee waiver info: https://www.nacacfairs.org/learn/fee-waiver/enrollment-deposit-fee-waiver/
What if it 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 you’ll get in. If acceptances or finances didn’t go your way, you do have options still. You can
- apply to some of the many amazing colleges that are still accepting apps — see my post with colleges still accepting apps here
- take a gap year
- attend community college for a year.
- And if you find yourself juggling a waitlist or two, here’s the link to that post.
- Finally, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and depressed, please check out this post here.
- Acceptance is a stellar accomplishment. Be proud of yourself!
- If you’re struggling to decide between a few schools, 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.
- If your parents need convincing, try making a presentation that addresses their concerns.