5 things I wish I knew while choosing a college


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As someone who just got done with it, there were many times where I felt lost and unmotivated to figure out exactly what I wanted to do.

  The college decision process can be stressful to say the least. In the process, students are tasked with taking standardized tests, visiting colleges, applying for scholarships, all while trying to keep up grades, going to events, playing sports, and hanging out with friends. It’s long and grueling. As someone who just got done with it, there were many times where I felt lost and unmotivated to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I definitely made mistakes and learned a lot along the way. Here are five things I wish I knew while choosing a college. Hopefully this can help at least one person while going through the same process. 

1.) Check your interests and options 

Before even thinking about beginning the college decision process, every student needs to ask themselves some questions. First and foremost, is college right for you? There’s a widespread notion that college is the only option for students, but the reality is that college isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. There is an array of opportunities for students to take such as taking a gap year, enlisting in the military, or pursuing a career opportunity to name a few. Not taking time to consider every option, even if it’s for a minute, only does a disservice for the student. 

If going to college is what you want to do, it’s imperative that you have some idea what your looking for. Aspects to consider are size, distance, majors/minors, quality of programs, and extracurricular activities. For some, this might come easy. Getting a scholarship or having a dream job can help a lot, but for the large majority of students, it will take time to figure it out. These questions don’t need to be solved right away, but even having a rough idea of what you’re looking for is something I wish I did because it would have made narrowing options easier in the long run. 

2.) Don’t over apply or under apply 

A common mistake students make is over/under applying for schools. I for one fell into the trap of over-applying, which cost me time and money. If I could do it over, I’d only apply for schools I knew I had an interest in instead of applying to every school that had an interest in me. For example, I didn’t know much about what I was looking for in a college but I knew that I wanted to stay on the east coast. However, when the University of Denver threw a free application fee my way, I jumped at the bait, taking time to fill out my information even though I knew I didn’t want to go that far away. I figured it wouldn’t do any harm, but I could have spent that time doing something more important. 

On the other side of the coin, applying to not enough schools can be a mistake too, especially if there’s no guarantee that you’ll get in. Finding a balance between schools safety schools and reach schools is important. Something that they should all have in common is an interest to go there. 

3.) Don’t wait on the waiting list 

Once the answers from colleges start coming in, the decision process begins to take shape. If you’re put on a waiting list for a college, it’s important to understand what that means. Being put on a waitlist isn’t bad by any means, but it’s not an acceptance. Putting too much hope on the waiting list can hurt your decision making process because it can cause lots of uncertainty to fly around. From someone who has waited long and hard for waiting lists to get back, I’d suggest assessing the colleges that have accepted you first, and then reassessing once the college you are waiting on makes a decision. 

4.) Advocate for yourself and negotiate 

The pricing on universities is astronomical. Students coming out after studying four years with a degree and thousands of dollars in debt. In order to help your long term future, negotiating the best price for you is something that is necessary. Contacting the financial aid offices and comparing offers with schools can be very effective. From what I’ve seen, universities usually have ample wiggle room to bump up packages. On top of this, applying for scholarships and looking at work-study programs can help make sure you get the bang for your buck. 

5.) You define your college, not the other way around 

It’s definitely easy to fall in love with the allure that some colleges bring. However the big names and big attractions a lot of schools try to reel you in with don’t automatically mean success. Similar to high school, you get out what you put in. A student going to a big name school only to drink, party, and flunk out of classes isn’t going to do as well as the student who studies and puts in the work at a community college. Whatever school you choose, make sure it’s one that is a solid fit for you and makes you happy. Put in the work and have fun so when you graduate, the college uses your example as a success.