Have you received so many college acceptance letters that you do not know which college to pick? (Good for you!) You may find it really hard to make your final college decision if you are not even sure about the factors you should consider before you decide on the right college for you!
High school seniors must make their final college decision by May 1 — National College Decision Day. Our clients at Campus to Career Crossroads have multiple acceptances they must sort through to determine their home for the next four years. In many instances, their needs and goals have changed since they applied to schools in October. Students and their parents often have different criteria for the final college decision, which can also add to the tension.
The good news: We have provided insider tips to help you make the best college decision and help you find the college that fits your goals.
Tip 1: Consider the President’s vision for the campus.
If someone asked you to invest $100,000.00 or more into a business, you would probably research the company’s president before you decided to fork over your money. A four-year college education may cost even more than that, so take the role of the president seriously. A university president sets the tone for a college campus. The majority of presidents have their own web page on their university website, which can give you a lot of information about their vision and strategic plan.
Read Bucknell University president John Bravman’s welcome, which offers a lot of helpful information and links.
Tip 2: Check on provost and senior leadership stability.
Learn more about the provost, the chief academic officer. The provost sets the academic agenda for each campus, serves as the right-hand person for the president, and also influences campus life. Check out the bios of the provost and other senior leaders, such as the director of residential life and the director of financial aid.
Your college investment deserves a stable senior leadership team. Similar to other industries, senior leadership personnel may leave for other career opportunities. Do your homework by checking Linkedin to help you understand each team member’s length of service on leadership teams at other universities.
How friendly or visible is the senior leadership team while you’re on campus? Some leaders enjoy being involved and engaged with the student body, whereas other leaders may act more reserved.
Tip 3: How much will the college decision cost?
Take another look at the cost of attendance and review your family budget to ensure that you can afford to attend for four years. In the future, you may regret getting into serious debt in your undergraduate studies. Take a look at two scenarios without a student receiving any need based or merit aid:
- College A, a selective private university, costs $70,000.00 annually. The estimated four-year cost of attendance would be $280,000.00.
- College B, a state school, costs $30,000.00 per year. The estimated four-year cost of attendance would be $120,000.00.
Which college would you choose to attend?
Do not forget that every major has a different salary range, which you should factor into the decision-making process.
For example, let us consider the high-demand mechanical engineering major. The median national salary is $90,146.00, according to My Next Move. However, keep in mind that the median salary is not what you will earn for an entry-level position right out of college.
Do not forget to talk through costs as a family so you avoid any affordability or salary surprises.
Tip 4: Know your professors.
You may choose to attend a college based on the quality of the faculty. Aside from excellent classroom instruction, professors should also have strong connections to businesses, industry colleagues, and professional associations that can lead to internship and career possibilities.
Do you prefer your education to be more hands-on or theory focused? A professor in charge of a department will set the direction. Getting to know the professors on a college website will help you learn about the educational and industry backgrounds of the people teaching you. Check out their previous experiences to give you insight into their network.
As colleges work through budget issues, you may notice fewer tenured professors than ever before. Understand the ratio of tenured professors to adjunct professors in your desired major before you make your final college decision. Many large universities utilize student teaching assistants. Choose the right mix of professors to ensure the best fit for your desired learning style.
Tip 5: Find out about research opportunities.
You do not have to attend Stanford or MIT to get exposure to world-class research opportunities. For example, one of the surprising top public research universities in the country, Binghamton University, offers over 700 research opportunities.
Consider the size of the college along with your research goals. You may get more research experiences earlier in your education at a small private liberal arts college. More students compete for research opportunities at larger universities and key positions often go to upperclassmen. Ask when you could begin research; Binghamton has a first-year research immersion program.
You may also want to ask about the current levels of research funding and future research projects in the pipeline.
Tip 6: Check into career advising services.
You go to college for the purpose of getting a job, but it is more complicated. Career launching can be overwhelming and daunting for students. Many colleges highlight big-name employers on career days, but it is a good idea to find out which employers have recently hired graduates in a specific major.
Even though many colleges and universities sound like they offer the same services (résumé assistance, internships, etc.), the quality of career services actually varies widely. Some majors may have one career advisor for hundreds of students and might actually rely heavily on software programs like Handshake.
Career service personalization is a key success factor. Campus to Career Crossroads assists students with résumés, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, interview preparation, and personal branding. Check out the video below from a parent discussing our one-on-one career services.
Tip 7: Ask about pre-professional advising.
Grad school in your future? Have legal or medical aspirations? This section is for you!
Many colleges offer resources for students who want to smooth the complex, competitive transition to graduate, law, or medical school.
Does your prospective college have a pre-professional advising department? If so, how many staff members work in the department and what types of services do they provide? The University of South Carolina has an impressive pre-professional department with clear services offered.
Tip 8: Learn about the alumni network.
One of the biggest fringe benefits of your college investment is its alumni network. An advantage of attending a mid-size to larger college is its bigger alumni network, which can help you find a job after graduation. Penn State’s Alumni Association sets the gold standard because it contains engaged members from coast to coast.
Find out whether alumni are engaged with their alma mater. It is a critical component of your college decision. From mentoring to seeking internships, alumni provide an invaluable resource for your success. Some colleges publish excellent alumni newsletters and magazines — see Georgia Tech’s Alumni Magazine. It does an exceptional job of keeping up with alumni in numerous industries.
Tip 9: Check out first-year club opportunities.
Going to classes and straight to your dorm afterward does not integrate you into campus life. Your prospective college should have dozens of freshman year clubs and organizations available so you can build relationships throughout the campus community.
Many colleges do a great job of providing clubs that have a real-world focus to get students acclimated to the work in their desired major. Check out the MProduct Club at the University of Michigan. The club provides students with the opportunity to understand product management careers through real-world projects and careers.
Looking for a few more insider tips to transition to campus life? Check out this helpful resource, provided by an admissions dean with over thirty years of experience.
Tip 10: Find out about the campus speaker lineup.
Most colleges tout an impressive lineup of campus speakers. Learn about who has been recently hosted at schools in your desired major. For example, Steve Wozinak, the co-founder of Apple, frequently speaks to business and engineering students at High Point University.
Make plans to attend one to two campus speaking events per semester to ensure you get the most out of your college investment.
Tip 11: Look into study abroad opportunities.
Clients consistently ask me to help them locate colleges with the best study abroad opportunities. It has been amazing to witness study abroad opportunities become more accessible and affordable over the years. Many colleges build study abroad into their credit costs, which often makes studying overseas about the same cost as attending the college or university itself.
Kalamazoo College’s K-Plan offers a great study abroad opportunity. Learn more about this program and see how it compares to the colleges on your list.
Tip 12: Follow colleges’ social media accounts.
Looking for a good reason to spend more time on social media?
Check out or follow the colleges you are considering. Social media channels will provide you with another source of information about colleges and the atmosphere on campuses. What does a college post and how does the content connect with you? What type of content do they create to engage with followers on different channels? Do they frequently respond to followers?
You might even experience students taking over their university’s Instagram account, which gives you a unique behind-the-scenes look at campus life.
Tip 13: Talk to students about your college decision.
The best way to get a sense of the campus culture: Talk to students who attend! How friendly are they? Ask them what happens on the weekends and whether they think the food is good. Students know these answers and more!
You may be able to track down a classmate who graduated a couple of years ago. Friends, family, or neighbors may know someone attending the college you’re considering.
No luck there? The admissions office can also usually connect you with a current student.
Tip 14: Read campus review websites.
You can also get an insider’s perspective by learning more on independent college review websites. We can help you sort through the overwhelming amount of information on these sites. We have vetted many of the college review websites and speak directly with the professionals operating them to vouch for their authenticity. We only recommend high-quality review websites driven by students on campus or recent graduates.
One of my favorite college review websites is College Scoops by Moira McCullough, whom I have met in person. Moira is the founder and visited Pittsburgh in September 2021 to tour Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.
After you review the tips shared in this blog post, you should be able to make an exciting college decision that fits your goals!
Need a little help talking through this big decision? We totally get it and we are happy to talk through the details with you to ensure you make the best college decision for yourself. Campus to Career Crossroads’ staff loves to hear about students thriving on the campuses they chose to attend.
Will an Accepted Student Day provide me all of the information needed to make my college decision?
While Accepted Student Days are important to attend, they sometimes have a rehearsed feel to them. Colleges often put on these showcase days and have perfected them over the years. Make sure you consider the college decision factors mentioned in this blog post and investigate the college on a personalized campus visit as well!
What is decision day for college?
May 1 is National College Decision Day and you must make a college decision on or before May 1 to ensure your spot in the class. It is important to note that spots are still open after May 1 at many noncompetitive colleges but to get priority on residence halls and orientation dates, you want to make your decision on or before May 1.
Should you make a decision before May 1?
If you know you want to attend a particular college or university before the May 1 deadline, go ahead and send in your enrollment deposit. It will confirm your spot in the class and also allow you to enjoy the rest of your senior year without worrying about having to make your final college decision.