May 1st Deadline: How to Choose the Best Fit in a College
The first thing to realize about choosing a college is that the best fit for you is not necessarily the same for someone else, including your friends. There are several considerations to make when selecting a college, and among the most important factors are financial, academic and social aspects of each college. These are all priorities and should be considered fully before selecting a college. How much weight you give each will depend on your particular circumstances.
To help you decide between the colleges that you have been admitted to: 1) calculate the remaining costs (subtract the financial aid from the total cost of tuition, fees, room and board) of each college you are considering; 2) rank the colleges by how much you or your parents need to pay; and 3) compare them academically, financially and socially by searching the college’s website or calling them for more difficult questions. Below are examples of questions to help you consider each area.
- Does the college have your major?
- Does the college have other majors you are interested in if you decide to change your major?
- Is there a graduate program in my major?
- What kinds of career and internships opportunities are available for students in my major?
- What areas of specialization and research do the professors focus on in my major?
- What are the requirements to enter my major? (For the arts, this may include a portfolio or an audition).
- What academic resources are available at the college (e.g., writing center, tutoring, library, etc.)?
- If you have a documented disability, what resources are provided by the college?
- How much would you be taking out in loans to attend the college? (Remember the differences between subsidized and unsubsidized loans; see the previous blog for more information).
- How much is the college providing in grants and scholarships?
- Is all of your financial aid renewable on a yearly basis? (Confirm if each award is renewable; don’t assume that you will automatically get it every year of college. Know what the requirements are for renewing each award).
- Do you already have debt to consider?
- Does your future career have a high or low level of earning potential?
- What kind of social life and social experiences does the college provide?
- What clubs, sports and organizations are available at the college?
- If there is a particular social aspect that is very important for you to continue to be a part of, does the college have this available or are you able to start it there?
- Is the college located in a town or city that you feel comfortable?
- Is the college as close as you want to be to home?
- Are any of your friends going to the college?
- Are you being pressured to attend one college over another?
In addition, here are two interactive online resources – from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the College Scorecard – that will help you compare your options. If you have the opportunity to visit the colleges you are interested in before deciding, this is a great way to see how you feel being on campus and if the reality stacks up to your imagination.
At the end of the day, the decision of which college you choose is yours. You will be ultimately responsible for the financial debt that you incur, and so you need to make this decision carefully. However, don’t assume that the cheapest college is the best fit. By doing so, you may be passing up an amazing opportunity that may cost you only slightly more in dollars, but may be a significant career boost and have other great benefits when compared to the cheapest option.
Each situation is different, and knowing how to compare all the factors against one another can be a challenge. In the end, if you are not able to go where you want to now, have a long term plan and work to get there in the future. Whichever one you choose, be proud and happy that you are going to college! Congratulations. You earned it.
Helpful Tip: You must reapply for the FAFSA every year that you are in college and/or graduate school to receive financial aid. Do not let your application lapse a year. You can always apply for the FAFSA even if you do not plan to accept it or are not eligible for it. The benefit of applying every year that you are in college is, you can use the previous year’s information to import into the current application. This often saves time and frustration with completing the FAFSA. Like always, you can update the financial information once you and/or your parents have filed taxes for that year.
Warning: Be sure to go to www.fafsa.ed.gov to complete the application. There are a lot of companies and scammers with websites pretending to be the FAFSA. If the website you go to does not end with “.gov” then it is not a government website! You should never pay anyone to complete this application because it is a free application, and there are many free resources to receive help including on the FAFSA website.