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How to pick the right college for you

National decision day is approaching.

This is the end of a long road for applicants.

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After months of research, campus visits and admission essays, the big decision has arrived: Where are you going to college?

We spoke with Stacey Brook, founder and chief adviser atCollege Essay Advisors, for some tips on how to make the right choice before the May 1 deadline.​

Consult your records

Before you get overwhelmed by indecision, the first thing you should do is look back at your records, says Brook, “and remember– you prepared for this.”

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The supplemental essays, which essentially asked students why they were interested in going to any given school, is a great place to start, she explains. These essays require a lot of research and likely “contain many specific justifications that connects the students interests to the resources the school has to offer,” says Brook.

There’s also a lot of to be learned from what they jotted down during their college visits and online research sessions, explains Brook. “Students should unearth those notes and remind themselves of why each school initially made it onto their lists.”

Make a pros and cons list

For those who don’t know where to begin, start with a trusty pros and cons list.

Brook suggests narrowing down your top three choices, and writing down as many defining qualities about each school as you can think of. Pros can include anything from offers my dream major or has excellent cafeteria food, while the cons might take into consideration class sizes or proximity to home, she explains.

The next step: Go through your lists and circle the top three musts in each category, says Brook.

“This just makes it easy to visualize your interest in a set of schools in a more cut-and-dried fashion, and it might make it incredibly obvious where your interest at heart lies,” she explains. “At the very least, it’s going to help you organize your thoughts and distill the most important parts of your decision making.”

Do the math

In the end, for many students, choosing a school is going to come down to dollars and cents, says Brook.

If you’ve received a financial-aid package, it’s important that you factor that into the equation, she explains. “Ask the colleges financial aid office to break things down for you and answer any questions for you that might come up,” says Brook. “Those things are typically pretty tricky to unpack. So spending some time with a student debt calculator and really figuring out what your situation will be, even with financial aid, is pretty crucial.”

You should also look into how graduates from any given school typically fare upon graduation, she explains, especially in your field of study. Ask yourself, “If I’m going to incur debt, will the reward of getting a degree from the school I’ve selected financially be worth it?”

The other thing to consider is: Do you have the aspirations to pursue a Masters degree or a PhD? If so, you may want to take into account that you could potentially be accruing yet another degrees worth of expenses when you’re finished with your undergraduate schooling– and plan your spending accordingly.

Allow yourself space to grow

“The time period between when you apply in November or December, and when you’re required to make a decision in May is often a period of tremendous maturation and growth,” says Brook. “Just because you had a burning desire to attend a school six months ago doesn’t mean you want to go there today.”

Overall, she explains, it’s incredibly useful to really sit with yourself and consider: Is what I wanted half a year ago the same thing that I want today?

Trust your gut

When it comes down to making the final decision, sometimes the best thing to do is just listen to yourself, says Brook. “Campus culture is often really hard to define, but sometimes you just have a special feeling about a place,” she adds.

That means thinking about where you felt most at home while walking on campus, which students seemed the most welcoming, which academic programs or school traditions called to you when you were thumbing through the websites and said, ‘I was made for you,’ she explains. “Anything along those lines — if you can listen to that — it can be a pretty valuable sign for you.”

 
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