Choosing Your College From Great Options

Jennifer Stephan headshot - Magellan College Counseling
Jennifer Stephan, Ph.D. is a Class Dean at Wellesley College and a consultant with Magellan College Counseling.

by Jennifer Stephan, Ph.D.

This blog post is especially for seniors!   You’ve worked hard throughout your time in high school and you’ve thoughtfully applied to a balanced and researched set of schools.  Your hard work has paid off and you have been accepted to a few great places.  Now what?!?  How do you decide between “your” schools?

There is no right or wrong answer to the question “which school should I go to?”  Since you’ve done your homework, and you had good reasons to apply to the schools you did, the truth is that you could go to any of “your” schools and be successful. As a recent NY Times article made clear, it doesn’t matter so much where you go, as what you do when you are there.

That said, might some of your schools be better matches than others for you?  Of course.  And you want be thoughtful about your choice so that you can feel good about it.  Here are some suggestions for how to do exactly this:

  • Most colleges have admitted students days that you will be invited to. Go.  Stay in the dorms overnight.  Sit in on a class (or two).  Eat in the cafeteria!  Meet with professors, administrators, coaches – whoever can help you get all the information that you need to make your decision.
  • Some schools have Facebook pages for their admitted students.  Join them! (Some only have Facebook pages for enrolling students – don’t join those unless you are really enrolling.)  Connect with other students considering these schools to learn more about the community that you may join.
  • Talk, talk, talk to as many people as you can about your choices.  Talk not only to people at the schools you visit, but also to high school teachers, guidance counselors, friends and family, local alums and your interviewers.  You will learn something from every person you speak to. You will learn things you like, and things you don’t – everything is valuable.  Take notes.
  • Then, stop talking.  Be alone with what you’ve learned.  Do your best to picture yourself at each school.  What will you (not your mom/dad/friends/grandma etc…) be doing day in and day out for the next four years, both inside and outside the classroom?  Which school will help you be (or find) your authentic self?  Remember, although others can give you advice, no one else can answer the question “where should I go?” for you – only you can.
  • Realize that getting into a place is not the end – it is a beginning.  Don’t allow yourself to be seduced by a school’s relative prestige/ranking, the attention they may be showing you, the success of its football team or its mascot.  Make pro and con lists to help you sort through the facts and your feelings, and determine which school is the best fit for you.  Check out one of my student’s thoughts on “Why would someone choose Wellesley over Harvard?”
  • accepted 1“Decide” where you are going.  Write the name of each of “your” schools on a separate piece of paper, put the papers in a hat, mix them up, and choose one, pretending for a moment that this will be the school you will attend.  What is your reaction when you see the name?  Does it feel right?  Are you disappointed?  Excited?  Pay close attention to what your inner voice says.  (This exercise is inspired by one of my advising colleagues who keeps a Magic 8 ball on his desk to help students make decisions!)
  • Decide for real.  Embrace your new school.  Tell your friends, family and all those who helped you along the way.  Join the enrolling students Facebook page.  Buy the sweatshirt.  Dream and plan!
  • Don’t look back.  Don’t second-guess your decision.  Recognize that you have made the best decision that you can with the information that you have here and now, and then move forward.

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