Maya St. Clair 4 min read 12th Grade

How to Pick a College: Do’s and Don’ts

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If you’re reading this, congrats! Chances are, you’re over the vast mountain that is college applications (or you’re almost there). Treat yourself to some much-needed rest as you gear up to receive your admissions news and make your decision.

 

If applications felt like a sprint, the decision-making process is a marathon. Although it may not be as stressful or intense churning out apps, the act choosing a college requires just as much planning and thought. You should set aside a certain amount of time each day (we recommend 20-ish minutes) to update your information, meditate on your choices, and talk with family or advisors.

 

You may also be interested in our articles on picking college with an undecided major or decision-making factors you may not have thought of yet! 

 

Things You SHOULD DO When Choosing a College

 

1. DO attend events for prospective and admitted students. 

 

These events offer you an incisive look at the kind of personalities a school is drawing in. Whether or not you “vibe” with the other admitted students can inform you how you’ll get along in this collegiate space. Are the other prefrosh competitive? Nice? Standoffish? Do they seem like they can relate to you? Prospective students events are a great opportunity to look for red flags (or auspicious sparks) about the social character of the student body. 

 

2. DO consider the best locations for career opportunities.

 

Some industries are concentrated in certain areas. Factor in your job field (agriculture, theater, entertainment, finance) when choosing your college. Be aware that certain states and cities may contain more internships, summer programs, and job opportunities in your field than others. 

 

3. DO check school and department websites.

 

How a school or program presents itself online can tell you a lot about how invested it is in student morale, accessible online resources, and community involvement. 

 

  • Is the website current? Updated regularly? 
  • Does the department make it easy for students to obtain information?
  • Does the department make an effort on social media?
  • Are faculty putting out interesting research, books, and lectures? 
  • How often does the school/department host lectures and colloquiums from visiting intellectuals?
  • Does the website spotlight student achievements? 

 

4. DO look for student testimonials about lived experience. 

 

All schools put smiling, diverse casts of satisfied students on their brochures, but the real story often lies in sources elsewhere. Check with news articles, campus activist groups, Reddit threads, and student newspapers to get a better picture of how a school is handling the issues important to you, whether it’s racial acceptance, socioeconomics, religion, Greek life, safety, etc. 

 

5. DO utilize financial aid offers to negotiate.

 

What if the school you like the most doesn’t offer you as much financial aid as its competitors? See if you can contact your admissions officer and adjust any financial aid offers. Explain your side: “I really want to attend School X, but School Y is offering a financial aid package that fits better with my family situation…” You can also elaborate on your situation in greater depth than you did on your application. 

 

We actually have a free tool that streamlines the process of negotiating aid. All you need to do is upload your financial aid offers for your top two choices, and both schools will be able to see the competing offers. In response, they may offer you more aid! Give Advocate a try to maximize your financial aid award.

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

Things You Should NOT DO When Choosing a College

 

1. DON’T ignore your health needs.

 

Keep in mind that certain college towns may have a difficult time accommodating your needs. These can be as obvious as diet (kosher, halal, gluten-free, etc) and wheelchair accessibility. They can also be concerns that don’t occur to you at first: for example, big sports schools can be EXTREMELY LOUD, with chants and banging going past midnight, which might infuriate someone who needs a solid night’s sleep. You should also consider your mental health needs: does the school have quality resources? Additionally, is it important to your mental health to be within visiting distance of family? Will it benefit you to have family nearby in case the situation requires? 

 

Overall, consider:

 

  • Diet 
  • Wheelchair accessibility and compliance 
  • Noise level
  • Mental health resources
  • Proximity to family 
  • Culture (drinking, pressure, emotional stressors)
  • Availability of student clinics 

 

2. DON’T dwell too much on the decision

 

Allot yourself a certain period of time per day to weigh your options. It’s understandable how you might feel tempted to dwell on the decision for every waking hour – you’re inundated with messaging that this is one of the “most important” decisions you’ll ever make. But take care not to let the stress bog you down. Limiting your time to a certain block – say, 30 minutes per day – can alleviate anxiety and keep it from seeping into other areas of your life. 

 

3. DON’T give in to FOMO or comparisons. 

 

Even as classmates post blissful decisions and acceptance results, keep your eyes on your own pathway and decide what’s best for you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the social prestige of a college matters more than other factors, or that you have to be over-the-moon with your announcements or eventual choice of college. 

 

4. DON’T ignore finances.

 

When I was deciding on schools, a lot of people told me to throw my fear of debt out the window: “The X College experience is worth six-figure debt,” they would say, or “If you can say you went to X College, does money even matter?” 

 

Isn’t that toxic? Don’t let people impose their own decisions – it’s your money, and it’s your say in how much debt/cost you’re comfortable with. You should have frank talks with your family and people you trust, and close off the decision-making process to everybody else. 

 

If you’re interested in reading more about choosing your college, you can check out CollegeVine’s other articles. We cover lots of topics related to choosing a school, such as: 

 

Your Guide to Picking a College Major

Should Student-Teacher Ratio Matter When I’m Choosing a College?

College Visits: When (and If) to Make Them

Should Greek Life Matter When Choosing a College?

How to Pick a College as an Undecided Major

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Maya St. Clair
Writer at CollegeVine
Short bio
Maya St. Clair is a freelance writer and Renaissance historian from Illinois. She loves "writing about writing" and helping others achieve the best results with their own prose. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis.