Updated August 29, 2022 • 6 Min Read

Tips for Making a Decision You'll Feel Confident About

As higher education advisors continue encouraging high school students to apply to between six and 10 colleges if they want the best chance of being accepted somewhere, it should come as no surprise that many learners receive multiple offer letters. According to a 2017 survey of 17,000 high school students , about one-third of students received offer letters to five or more schools, while 6 percent received offers from 10 institutions. Sifting through options to find the best academic and personal fit can feel overwhelming, but this guide exists to help walk students through the process, provide expert advice and answer common questions.

9 Expert Tips for Choosing the Right College

Choosing the right college need not feel overwhelming if students take a clearheaded and practical approach. In this section, our experts provide a range of helpful tools to help students confidently make their decisions.

  • According to University of Pennsylvania interviewer Amber Jin, students can set themselves up for success by finding schools that truly fit their needs. “Understand what opportunities exist for your field of study, including faculty, undergraduate classes and research opportunity,” Jin suggests. “You want to make sure you will be well supported and have access to resources for you to excel in your specific field of study.”
  • As the director of admissions for Clarkson College, Ken Zeiger has seen firsthand the value of spending time on campus. “After creating a list, start planning campus visits with your support team,” he suggests. “If you don't have to, don't go alone because having someone with you can provide another perspective.” In terms of what to look for, Zeiger says to keep your passions at the forefront. “Visiting campus helps align your interest in the college with the reality. Is this a school you can see yourself wanting to attend? Can you see yourself as part of the campus?”
  • When you visit campus or speak to admissions specialists, be sure to make the most of this time. Rather than asking generic questions whose answers can easily be found on the school's website, think about your needs and wants from a college setting and develop a list of individualized questions that elicit unique answers.
  • “For colleges that you won't have a chance to visit, use online resources to get some real answers to your questions,” says Jin. “Users on websites like Reddit, Quora, etc. are fairly straightforward in their answers and will give you an unfiltered version of the good, bad and ugly to help you in your decision.”
  • In today's age of connectivity, it's probably easier than you think to find a connection or friend of a friend who attended one of the colleges you're considering. Make use of these connections. “Current students and alumni offer excellent perspectives, and they may even have some tips once you are enrolled and on campus. It's also okay if you don't know anyone,” notes Zeiger. “If you visit campus, make sure you get a tour from a current student before stopping by the admissions office to see who else you can speak with.”
  • It's important for students to understand the associated costs of an education and how that debt burden affects them. While gaining a college education is the ultimate goal, students also need to feel happy, healthy and financially sound after they graduate, or they may find it difficult to pursue their interests.
  • “One of your main goals in college is to set yourself up for success and have a strong start to your career after college,” says Jin. “Some colleges have done a great job of organizing events such as job fairs and on-campus recruiting to help students land coveted full-time jobs, but others don't have as much support on that front.”
  • “Apply for admission as well as scholarships, if they aren't included in the initial process,” instructs Zeiger. “Reach out to see about any additional funding; schools who know you have multiple offers may provide additional funds to have you at their campuses.”
  • Many students think one campus visit provides enough exposure to the culture and academic landscape, but many admissions experts recommend a second visit. “Go back to campus as an accepted student and sit down with an admissions representative to get an overview of your path and determine what your next steps will be,” Zeiger says. “It's okay to tell your top choice you can't afford to attend, but they cannot help you if you don't share what the roadblock is.” Zeiger also suggests spending time on other parts of campus. “Go on the tour again, walk around and eat on campus. You should spend time in the place you plan to be for the next few years.”

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Your College Acceptance Questions Answered

Why should I take time to make the right decision?

“College provides an important experience during your most formative years that will shape your personal development,” says Jin, explaining that college helps students set themselves up for success in the future, so it's worth finding a perfect fit. Weighing options requires students to consider countless factors, ranging from overall cost and location to intended major and housing options. It's really worth your time to consider each carefully as all will affect your life (and future) in different ways.

Is it really that big a deal to transfer if I'm not happy in my first school?

To take the pressure off, some learners content themselves with the knowledge that they can always transfer if they don't like the fit of the first school. And while this is true, students often don't know how much work goes into the process. “While transfers are possible during your undergraduate career, they also come with their own set of challenges,” warns Jin. “These include an interruption to your four-year experience, credit transfers to graduate on time and the competitive transfer application process.”

How can I be sure I've chosen the right school?

At the end of the day, you can't. No student can walk for the first time onto the campus of the school he or she has chosen and feel fully confident in having made the right decision. But, students can do enough research and ask enough questions to have a much better sense of what to expect.

What if I really want to attend a specific school, but the funding isn't there?

“Once decisions and financial aid/merit offers are out, students can touch base to discuss additional help with the financial aid and admissions teams,” says Jin. “While more aid may not always be possible, getting the conversation started early to get on their radar and being respectful and open will be your best bet.”

Can I leverage multiple offer letters to receive more funding?

Jin says, in some cases, schools may provide additional funding if they know other colleges want you, as they want to avoid skewing their admitted-versus-enrolled ratios. “Let the school know about bigger financial aid packages offered by other schools,” she says. “If the school is your top choice, make sure you tell [admissions officers] that as well, and see if there is a possibility for the college to provide a bigger, more competitive package to allow you to commit to that school.”

Is it worth it to visit each campus, or can I just look at each website?

Due to financial or time constraints, some students aren't able to travel and see each prospective schools in person. While countless learners accept college offer letters and move to campuses without having visited previously, those who do visit and get to spend time at their prospective schools often have a lower risk of transferring. Even if you can't physically go to the campus, ask if the institution has a virtual online tour or if you could speak to some current students via FaceTime or Skype to get a sense of their experiences.

Should I accept an offer from the best-ranked school or the one that feels like the best fit?

Many students feel like a school's name recognition should dictate their decision, but Jin says that's not always the case. “While a college's reputation and rankings are helpful indicators, it's equally important to consider fit for you,” she encourages. “Don't consider brand, rankings or reputation to the exclusion of other factors like fit, culture, environment and your intended major.”

How important are school resources when making my decision?

Resources play a crucial role in the education and preparation of learners after they leave college, and all students should feel emotionally, mentally, academically and professionally supported while in school. Degree-seekers attending institutions without supportive career centers, internship services, academic counselors and mental health professionals may find themselves unprepared when they leave school to head into the next chapter of their lives. It's well worth your time to ensure the school you pick can provide essential services.

You've Decided. Now What?

Making a decision about which college to attend when you have multiple offers presents a significant step in the process, but there's still work to do.

Let the school you've picked know you're coming.

After weighing all your options and picking the school you feel is the best possible match, you need to let the school know. In addition to an acceptance letter — sent via email or standard mail — most institutions require a deposit to secure the student's place in the incoming class. This amount can range from $50 to $500 and should be sent well in advance of the deadline to ensure the student doesn't lose his or her place.

Inform the schools you didn't pick.

Even though you won't be spending the next four years at any of these campuses, it's common courtesy to let the schools know that you've decided to enroll elsewhere. Because other students may be on their waiting lists, sending in your rejection letter frees them up to make offers to other students who may feel those schools are the best matches for them.

Finalize institutional financial aid.

Contact the financial aid office at the chosen school to discuss your award package, how it will be disbursed and exactly what the funds cover. Some funding only applies to tuition and fees, while other awards cover additional costs such as housing, textbooks, lab fees and meal plans. Once you have this information, spend time researching additional options — such as outside scholarships and grants — to help secure other needed funding. After calculating these funds plus any family contributions, ensure you've taken out a student loan to cover any outstanding expenses, if need be.

Sort out housing plans.

Many students live on campus for at least their first couple of years in school, and most colleges send out housing forms a few months before classes start so learners can indicate their preferences in terms of housing type (e.g., dorm, apartment, single room). Not all students get their first picks, but these documents help resident life staff pair roommates and provide the best option possible for each student.

Attend summer orientation.

Most schools hold summer orientation sessions to welcome incoming students to campus, help them register for classes, meet other incoming students and have any outstanding questions answered. Students unable to attend these sessions should work with their admissions advisers to ensure they receive any important information and learn how to register for courses.

Stay focused on high school.

Just because you've earned a place at college and accepted the offer doesn't mean you can slack off in your high school classes. Many schools require newly admitted students to provide finalized transcripts after they graduate, and those who received poor grades in their final semesters may encounter issues surrounding their financial aid packages or be placed on academic probation.

Focus on what you hope to accomplish.

Before you reach campus and dive into coursework, communal living and countless clubs and organizations, consider taking time out of your summer to think about what you want this new phase of your life to look like. What do you hope to accomplish academically? How do you define personal growth? What do you hope to take from your time in school? How can you best prepare for all the changes coming your way?

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