Undergrads Share College Decision Day Strategies

After months of college application tasks and an anxious waiting period, high school seniors are starting to receive college acceptance letters. Many students may be relieved, but the hard work isn't necessarily over.

Now you need to make a decision. If you are lucky enough to receive multiple acceptances, you must choose one. With so many factors to consider, how can you ensure you're making the right choice for this major chapter in your life?

While you don't want to put too much pressure on yourself, evaluate your options carefully. Two current undergraduates recently shared their college decision strategies to help you prepare to pick a college before National College Decision Day on May 1.

[Get expert tips and advice on making the college decision.]

-- Identify your deal breakers: Before you can make any decision, large or small, you need to determine which factors are most important to you and key to you having a great education experience.

You may have created a list of criteria when you put together a short list of colleges to apply to, but now you need to differentiate between the elements you simply like and those you feel you can't live without.

Jump-start your decision process by reviewing each school based on the deal breakers you identify. Which schools offer the things you can't live without and which don't?

Mina Shenouda, a senior at Rutgers University--New Brunswick, said via email he wanted a specific type of college location. "I wanted to choose a school that was safe and that also had fun stuff to do if I wanted to explore other areas," he said.

Shenouda also said it was important to him to find a school that offered the best programs for his goals, including his potential major, minor and extracurricular activities.

Madeleine Wagner, a junior at the University of North Georgia, said via email the most important factors for her were affordability and opportunities within the school, specifically a biology program.

"When I first sat down in my biology class when I started the university, other students around me were immediately discussing the material and making study groups," she explained. "That's when I felt I made the right choice, surrounding myself with like-minded people who understood me."

[Follow these 10 steps to picking the right college.]

-- Research and ask last-minute questions: As decision day approaches, you still may have questions. Don't be afraid to dig further for answers to these questions or reach out to the school.

As you evaluate schools based on your list of must-haves, you may come across information that you didn't know to research before or that you were unaware of. But if you can't find the answers you need, don't be shy about asking the school.

Shenouda advises asking questions so you are as prepared as possible for college. "There are a few elements that I wish I had prepared for when I was still in high school. First and foremost, I wish I had looked into the requirements more thoroughly in regards to my major, as well as general core requirements," he said.

"I was a little clueless about it at first and didn't necessarily know how it worked, which made scheduling classes later on slightly difficult." Consider contacting the appropriate departments at the schools you're looking at to confirm what the requirements for your intended major are like and if you feel comfortable with those paths.

Financial aid opportunities and general facts about tuition are other aspects you may wish to ask more questions about. Shenouda noted this was an important consideration as he chose between schools.

"The cost of education was my biggest determining factor," he said. "You don't want to be paying student loans for the entirety of your life, so you have to choose a school accordingly."

[Check out the colleges where students are the most eager to enroll.]

-- Make the decision for you: Like many students, you may have various people, including family and friends, giving input on your college decision.

While many of your trusted relatives and peers may have valuable insights that can contribute to your decision, ultimately the choice is yours and yours alone. Only you can fully realize which aspects of a college will make you truly happy and fulfilled, so keep that at the front of your mind.

Moreover, fully consider each option. It can be easy to let a particular school become a front- runner early on in your decision-making process, and it may even become the winning choice -- but be sure to carefully evaluate every school that has accepted you, since you had particular reasons for applying to each school.

"Definitely keep an open mind. Students can always transfer and change majors, but there's no re-living a certain semester," said Wagner. "There's no making up for lost time, so don't go to a school specifically for a high school relationship or to make someone else happy. A student's college experience is his or her own, and the student must put his or her self and their education first."

Cathryn Sloane is a marketing manager for Varsity Tutors. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Iowa.

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