May 1st, also known as College Decision Day. It’s the day where high school seniors officially declare the choice they’ve made in entering the next stage of their lives.
As a 2020 high school graduate myself, the wholly stressful experience of the college admissions process still remains fresh in my mind, instances like drafting an excessive number of admissions essays or painstakingly filling out the application itself being particularly memorable. The top contender? Making the final decision of choosing which college to attend.
This decision is normally difficult enough as it is, but the sudden addition of an unforeseen global pandemic considerably magnified my stress.
Even without a pandemic, the road map to choosing the best suitable college isn’t an easy one to navigate. The typical advice bestowed upon rising college freshmen is usually something along the lines of: “Try visiting the college campuses you’re interested in!” or “Try contacting the colleges’ admissions office for help!”
While this is practical advice, some seniors may not have the opportunity to visit colleges. Similarly, even if people do call the admissions offices for help, they may not know what to ask for/about.
In my case, neither suggestion helped make the decision process any less overwhelming. Because of the pandemic, I unfortunately could not visit any of the colleges I was especially interested in, and any attempt I made at contacting the schools only left me feeling more unsure.
In the end, I was able to come to a final decision, but not without weeks of heavy contemplation and a great deal of research. To aid in your own decision-making, here are some guidelines that helped me successfully narrow down which college I eventually chose to attend:
(For COVID-19-Special-Edition circumstances, I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting how the pandemic specifically impacted the choices I made.)
(I’d also like to mention here that I’m basing my guidelines off of my experience in choosing which traditional four-year college I wanted to attend, though I do mention other college institutions later on in the post!)
The top four factors I’d suggest to consider are:
Geographical Location: select where you know you’d be comfortable living for the next four years of your life. Make sure to consider:
The surroundings: Are you someone who prefers the beach or the woods? The city or the suburbs? Lower or higher population density? These preferences, though for some are not overly important, can help to weed out the colleges that you may/may not want to attend.
The weather: as a native Californian, the thought of living anywhere that frequently rains or snows helped me to instantly narrow down my list to only selecting colleges located in warmer climates.
How close you want to be near home: I’m personally very close with my family, so I knew I only wanted to attend schools in-state. However, I also knew I wanted at least an hour’s distance of space between me and my family so that I could have the opportunity to grow and become more independent.
The pandemic made me reconsider how close/far I wanted to be from home in the case that I would need to return if another shelter-in-place were to be implemented or if on-campus housing becomes unavailable.
Social Life: it’s true that college will be what you make of it. However, the social climate of each school varies greatly and, depending on what you prefer, can further help to narrow down your list.
The goal is to try to choose the school that makes you feel the most comfortable and one where you feel the most supported. I’m someone who is more introverted, so I tried to steer clear of attending larger schools or schools known for being more social. I also looked into what type of clubs and societies are offered at each school, and if it included ones that I’m interested in.
The pandemic has unfortunately eliminated any circumstance of me meeting a lot of people in person or attending any social gatherings, so this factor wasn’t too important to me.
Financial Circumstances: as someone who comes from a low-income household, I had to be pragmatic in choosing colleges based on which was the most affordable as well as which one would provide the most financial aid.
Even prior to the pandemic, I have always been financially-conscious, and I tend to base many of my decisions off of how much my family and I can afford. This sentiment only grew as, due to the pandemic, some schools decreased the amount of financial aid that was initially offered. More complications arose as some schools, despite announcing to be entirely remote-based-learning for the 2020-21 school year, maintained that courses and on-campus dorming fees would still be charged at full price. Based on these changes, I had to reconsider which school would be the best option.
Other options to consider include: applying to a community college or to a vocational/technical school. Both options are significantly less expensive than applying to a four-year college.
Majors Offered: this factor was the one that concerned me the most as I personally am going into college as undeclared. However, throughout my college-selection process, what I learned was this:
If you know what you want, go for it! In other words, if you’re someone who knows exactly what future career you’d like to have, the college of your choice should offer the major(s) that can provide the best pathway to fulfill your goals.
Even if you’re not entirely sure, or if you have no clue as to what you’d like to major in, I’ll be the first to reassure you that that’s completely okay! (In fact, most undergraduates switch their majors an average of three to four times, so don’t be concerned about selecting a major right off the bat.) I suggest selecting the college that provides the most majors of what you're interested in.
Again, there is the option of attending a community college or a vocational/technical school. Community college is a good option if you’re unsure of what to major in because you can take as much time and as many classes as you need to figure out what you’d like to venture in. It has also become increasingly common to attend community college for two years and then transfer to a four-year college to graduate.
Some additional advice:
After narrowing down your schools to a handful (optimally 2-3) choices, try your best to consult people who’ve actually attended/currently attend each school. Reach out to family/family friends or any upperclassmen you know. If that isn’t possible, another good resource is reading through Reddit threads or other similar online forums. (However, make sure the comments are recent, as a lot can change in a few years time!) The insider information of each school can help you determine which one would actually be the best fit for you.
If your high school has counselors available, don’t be afraid to reach out to them! Personally, my counselor was instrumental in guiding me throughout the entire college admissions process, from helping me with my admissions essays topics to helping me envision my future career.
Go with your gut, and don’t be afraid! Though my own college decision process was nerve-racking, after weeks of scrutinizing every last detail and factor and then finally, finally making my choice, I knew I had made the right one.
My final note: regardless of which college you decide to attend or whatever path you decide to take, I’m confident you will thrive and be happy! :)