Making the Big Decision


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A statement often said about the college admission process is, “Getting in is the hardest part!” But for some of you reading this, I bet you disagree. Deciding where to go can be even harder. As the May 1 national admission response deadline approaches, many high school seniors sit in the precipice of the “big decision.” Those of you who are admitted but not yet committed are most likely feeling a mix of anxiety and confusion. Hopefully though as you make one of the biggest decisions you have needed to make so far in life, you are also feeling a tinge of anticipation and excitement.

I applaud those of you still making the decision. It means you are weighing all of your options and focusing your energies on making the best decision possible. But I also respect the stress that you are feeling as May 1 approaches, and your friends and classmates are putting the bumper stickers on the car and changing their Facebook education status.

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? Where is the best fit?

These are all the questions you should be asking, but as you are discovering there are no easy answers. This is my 17th year working in college admission, and I have had countless conversations with students about making the big decision. I hope this blog post will provide some advice to help you navigate this all-important decision-making process. If you stick to the end, I will share both a hidden truth about college admissions and the ultimate piece of decision-making advice. 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.

It’s time for some quality self-analysis.

What is important to you? 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 future resume. Asking others to help is absolutely acceptable, but in the end, it is you and you alone who must make the final choice.

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 to call myself an alumnus of the school?
  • Will I/can I make a difference on campus?

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.

They may seem cliche, but pro/con lists work.

For some, Pro/Con lists are tedious or laughable. But for some, they can be a great help, 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 comprehensive 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, weather, 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.

Do not focus on just statistics and rankings, they are superficial at best.

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.

Receive all advice with some skepticism.

I 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 should be at 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.

Still Stumped?

So at the start of this blog post I promised a hidden truth and the best piece of advice. First, the best piece of advice. If all advice fails, go with your gut. Seriously though, if you remain confused at the end of all your soul searching, go with your gut. When I face a difficult decision or choice I often think about the musings of my favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell. (By the way, if you have never read Malcolm Gladwell’s novels, I highly recommend them as the perfect pre-college summer readings.) In one of his best-sellers, Blink, Gladwell shares stories of how we think without thinking, about choices made in the blink of an eye, and how such choices tend to be the best possible decisions. So if you are stumped, just yell out the name of the school that is in your gut, and choose it.

Now, the hidden truth. Whatever your choice, understand that almost universally, once a student commits to a school, that is the best choice for them. You begin to mold your choice into the perfect fit, the best college experience for you. The other schools no longer matter. The next four years are what you make of them, so go out there and be successful!

And in the end, if all this advice fails … just choose Emory. You can’t go wrong.

Daniel G. Creasy
Director of Communications
Office of Undergraduate Admission

Don’t hesitate to connect with us by posting a comment to this blog, tweeting us @emoryadmission, or emailing us at We look forward to hearing from you!

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  1. Rebecca Gubler

    Love this advice! Most especially the very last line, it gave me a chuckle. I can’t wait to show this to my daughter just coming home from visiting one of her accepted colleges. Her struggles to make a decision are real!

  2. Arnav Kak

    Such a tough decision for me I love Emory and would join it in heartbeat. I cannot justify the cost, as I am getting scholarship from other equally good schools. That is my dilema, need some advice.

    1. AdmissionDaniel

      Balancing preference and cost is one of the hardest parts of making the decision of which college to attend. It is also one of the most personal and something we can’t provide advice about. I encourage you to speak with your family and weigh the cost and benefits of all the schools you are considering.

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