Choosing a College: What’s Your Final Answer?

May 04, 2010 11:00 AM
by Liz Colville
Factors such as size, campus environment, strongest departments and extracurricular options can be whittled down with some help from the Web.

Making the Decision of a Lifetime

College acceptance letters are making their way to students around the country, bringing an often difficult decision—which college?—into the hands of millions of young people. To help sway them, many colleges have taken to creating a fanfare around the acceptance letter (confetti, “goodies” and certificates often accompany the modern acceptance letter, according to U.S. News & World Report). The recession is also likely to be a deciding factor in many students’ and parents’ decisions this year.

How Not to Choose a College

When making that initial list of pros and cons, American Education Services’ Education Planner recommends eliminating all the factors that may be swaying you emotionally. “12 Ways Not to Choose a College” advises, among other things, not to choose a school because it’s the most familiar to you, because your friends or significant other are going, or because the tuition is lowest there.

It’s difficult not to let finances affect your decision, but consult’s “Student’s Guide to FinAid” for some initial resources to help you apply for financial aid.

Key Factors in Your Decision

Unigo, a new site that compiles student and staff reviews of 250 top U.S. schools, offers feature articles and on-campus videos, and asserts that a college’s size can be an indication of a lot of factors that may help you whittle down your shortlist.

In “Finding the Perfect Fit: A college sizing guide,” Unigo says that big schools may be best for sports fans and those who want a hand in many different groups and activities. Small schools can be good for those who want a college that isn’t run like a business, and for those who prefer a more intimate social atmosphere.

Beyond size, College Board advises in its “College Decision-Making Guide” that location, mix of students, academics, facilities and activities should be key factors in your decision. While their “College Search” feature shouldn’t dictate your decision, it’s an easy way to examine colleges’ features side by side.

Next Step Magazine’s article “How to make your final college choice” recommends being a realist. “Skip the glossy brochures,” the article counsels. Especially in a recession, brochures are not going to give you an adequate picture of what a school is like. The article also recommends talking to fellow seniors about how they made their choice, visiting campuses, and focusing on the most important aspect of your decision: academics.

FindingDulcinea’s Web Guide to Applying to College has more sites where you can read student reviews of colleges, compare schools by feature, find financial aid help and resources, and connect with other students on forums and message boards. The guide advises to be mindful of college rankings and to get to know your favorite schools’ Web sites.

The Daily Beast has a special section on college with features such as “The 6 New Rules on College Admissions” with links to articles on economic factors and other trends that could change an impending college student's choice and academic career.

Recession-Proofing Your Decision

Financial aid makes sense for many families, especially during a recession. But the recession is affecting schools, too, so it’s wise to assume that campus construction, new programs and other ambitious offerings might be scaled back over the next couple of years. Still, colleges and universities like Amherst College have come out pledging that their financial aid programs will not change just because their endowments have shrunk.

U.S. News and World Report has an excellent FAQ on the link between the recession and college that can help ease the minds of future college students and their parents. Find out how the recession will affect scholarships, student loans and your chances of getting into college.

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