As the May 1 admission response deadline approaches, some of you still have a major decision on the horizon. Those of you who are admitted but not yet committed are probably feeling a mix of anxiety, confusion, and hopefully a tinge of excitement, too. Clearly, this is one of the biggest decisions you have needed to make so far in your life, and you should be commended for taking your time and focusing your energies. (And they say, “getting in” is the hardest part!)
So how do you choose? How do you make this big decision? What is the value of an education at one institution compared to another? What is the right choice? The perfect fit? Asking others these questions is acceptable, but in the end, it is you and you alone who must make the choice. This decision-making process challenges your ability to self-analyze your personal priorities and preferences while forcing you to attempt to predict the next four years of your life. And not only does this choice impact those next four years—your school will become your alma mater and an important section of your resume.
OK, that last paragraph probably just added to your stress level. So let’s change gears for the rest of this post and provide the best possible assistance we can for tackling this decision. If you can approach your decision-making process with an organized game plan and clear mindset, you will hopefully find the right choice will illuminate itself. Our advice falls into four categories:
Determine what is it you want/need and then research all the aspects behind the decision. Self-analysis is crucial before deciding which college to attend. Ask yourself the critical questions, and be honest with yourself when it comes to the answers:
- What kind of a school do I want to attend for four years? Location? Atmosphere?
- What kind of student body am I looking for? Do I think I will mesh well with the current students?
- What kind of academic opportunities will be available to me as an undergraduate, and how am I looking to be educated?
- Same question, but relate it to extracurricular options. Which is more important: strong academics, an active social life, or a mix of both?
- What about the faculty? Are they accessible? Can I see myself learning from them? Do I want to learn from them?
- Will I learn? Will I have fun? Will I be challenged? Will I easily engage? Which of these matters most?
- Will I be proud in four years to call myself an alumnus of the school?
- Will I / can I make a difference?
If you visited your final choice schools it is probably easier to answer these questions. If you didn’t visit, you can conduct tons of research via websites and social media to get a feel for the school, its student body, and the faculty. Comparing what you value with the attributes of each school that remains on your list will aid you greatly.
- Make Pro/Con Lists
For some, Pro/Con lists are tedious or laughable. Trust us. They work, especially for this kind of decision making. Make lists for each school you are still considering. It is time for you to really start thinking about fit. No school is perfect, so make sure to be as detailed listing strengths as you are listing weaknesses.
Not only is this the time where you can catalog your personal opinions about each school; it also becomes a study in what characteristics you find most important. If you did a self-analysis, now is the perfect time to match the list of qualities you want to your opinions about what each school has to offer. Location, size, friendliness, professors, extracurricular offerings, cost, academic opportunities, etc. List everything from the most important detail to the most insignificant. Nothing is too ridiculous to be included on these lists—consider it a personal brain dump that in the end will bring clarity, focus, and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. All in all, this is your compare and contrast system, and it should help.
Though rankings and statistics are quite helpful as you first start thinking about colleges and as you decide where to apply, in all honesty, numbers can be manipulated to prove any point you want. To make your final decision, throw U.S. News out the window and avoid side-by-side number comparisons of schools. It is time to focus on the intangibles. Each of the schools that have admitted you offer amazing opportunities. This is not an apple versus orange versus kiwi decision, but rather a gorgeous green apple versus a shiny red apple versus a delicious yellow apple. Numbers do not predict whether you will be happy for the next four years, whether you will be challenged, or whether you will be stimulated. The top schools are all top schools. It now comes down to fit, and a percentage, formula, or statistic does not determine fit.
- Take Advice with a Grain of Salt
We strongly encourage you to make sure to avoid hearsay, conjecture, myths, and rumors—they often are far from the truth. Every person sees every college differently. Do your own analyses; get information directly from the source, and avoid biased comments. Value your personal conclusions over all others. There is no cardinal rule that says if you read it or heard it; it must be 100% true. Consider everything—both overly positive and overly negative comments—with a grain of salt. Constantly question the source, and consider the agenda of the person feeding you information. Ultimately your own personal conclusions will be the best guide.
Clearly you need to talk with others about this decision. Your family may be the top of the list. Your college counselor or respected teachers are other great sources. Friends can be helpful, but their advice could also be worth little. Make sure to gather information from the schools themselves. Avoid anonymous sources. In the end, filter through all the information you have compiled to make the best decision for you.
Seriously though, if you remain confused at the end, go with your gut. We hope you will choose Emory University (wink, wink). Whatever your choice, understand one last important concept—one of the hidden truths of college admission is that once a student commits to a school they begin to mold their choice into the perfect school. So whatever school you’ve chosen will become your perfect college experience. These four years are what you make of them, so go out there and be successful.