You’re in the best predicament possible: You’ve been accepted into two schools that you love equally. Congratulations! However… now you’ve got to actually decide where you’re going to spend the next four years. It’s a daunting situation, considering whatever choice you make will impact your life in so many different ways – and that’s why we’re breaking down the decision-making process for you. By asking yourself the following questions and breaking down all the different aspects of each school, you’ll be able to make the most informed decision possible.
How do the financial aid packages/merit scholarships compare? What would overall costs look like for each school?
Substantive differences in cost can sway your decision. While I’m certainly not saying that choosing the cheaper option is always smarter in the long run, it can be helpful to see which school is the better “deal” financially.
What is the size of the undergraduate student body?
Do you want to attend a school where you recognize nearly every face on campus, or would you rather go somewhere that you can make a new friend every single day? Do you feel more at home in a small, tightknit community or in a big class where you can be anonymous when you want to be? If the two schools are different sizes, this is an important factor to consider.
What activities are available at each school? What activities would I be involved with? Does each school offer the extracurriculars that I have my heart set on?
Think about what you’ve always really wanted to do in college. For some, joining a sorority or fraternity is appealing (and others may rather go somewhere with zero Greek life). Maybe you’ve always dreamed of studying abroad, competing in robotics, or writing for the school’s news publication. Whatever it is, look into what each school offers. These are things that often go overlooked – until you see friends at other schools heading off to Barcelona and you have serious FOMO.
What are the housing options like?
Every school does it a little differently. Some schools require only freshmen to live on campus, while others require you to live on campus for three or even four years. What are the student housing options like? If you’d like to live in an off-campus apartment, are there are affordable options near campus?
What is the academic reputation of the school and my specific major?
I certainly don’t think everyone would be happy if they blindly chose the higher-ranked, more “elite” school, but it’s still something to consider. How is each school perceived, and what sorts of doors would a degree potentially open? Does one school have a better reputation for the specific major you’ll be pursuing? For example: one school may be ranked higher, but the other may have a world-class journalism school or engineering program. The more you investigate, the better.
What is the town or city like? Is it big or small? What is the cost of living like?
Do you want to attend a school in a big, bustling city, or would you feel better living in a small college town? Think about what life would be like in each location, away from campus. Would there be a lot to do? Is there a high crime rate? What would your transportation options look like? Consider how costs vary from city to city – getting a cab, going out to eat, and grocery shopping will cost you more in New York City than it will cost you in a small town.
What is the demographic of the student body?
Some schools have mostly in-state students, while others boast students from all over the world. Which type of student body appeals to you? Is it an important factor?
How far is each school from home?
For a long time my motto in my college search was, “The farther away the better!” I was eager to get out and explore. However, I realized later how thankful I was that I could drive five hours to get to my university, and never had to purchase an airline ticket or fit my life into a checked bag. Would you mind flying to and from school? Do you want to be able to drive home for a long weekend? Do you want to drive home for dinner? Think realistically about what you’d prefer.
Sit down, think (and research!) each question, and compare. Typically, when you really get into the nitty gritty details, one school will emerge the winner.
Of course, it’s not always that easy. If the schools are still tied in your mind, do what I do. Grab a coin and assign each school heads or tails. Flip it. Where are you headed next year? More importantly, how did the result of the coin toss make you feel? Pay attention to your gut reaction. More often than not, you’ll realize you’re thrilled (or a bit disappointed) to see a certain result… and that will tell you what you need to know.
Finally, remember this: college is what you make it. Go in with motivation, an open mind, and a willingness to work hard, and you’ll flourish wherever you end up.