The Final Decision: Picking the Right College
This post is part of a series. We recommend reading The Big Question: How to Fund College (Part 4) prior to this post!
I peeked into my mailbox on a Friday afternoon after I came home from school. Between the normal deliveries of magazines and coupon booklets, an orange envelope stuck out of the fold. I reached my hand in excitedly and took it out to see my name and a letter peeking through the plastic film where my address was. Sure enough, the acceptance letter from my dream university had arrived! Let’s jump forward in time a bit.
The first of my financial aid offers arrived in my email around the start of February. While this was pretty early, I was still excited to see what the university was willing to offer me. The excitement of being accepted to a school that you have worked hard for a place is satisfying. However, acceptance is not all that it takes in most cases to decide. This is where it becomes important to also know how much the school is willing to help you fund your education!
When evaluating your financial aid offers, you are going to want to calculate something called a Net Price for college? Sound scary? Don’t worry! It’s really not too bad.
Net Price = Cost of Attendance (COA) – Gifted Aid
Let’s go through and define these terms:
Net Price: How much your college education is valued at after deductions.
Cost of Attendance (COA): Work-study, financial aid, EFC (Expected Family Contribution), and any extra money you will owe to the school.
Gifted Aid: The combined amount of scholarships and grants that you’ve received. Make sure to not calculate loans in!
While this may seem like a lot to decipher, you will realistically only have to do this about 4-5 times depending on how many colleges you choose to apply to. For example, even though I was accepted to eleven universities and colleges, I only did this calculation for schools that I was really interested in that wanted to give me financial aid. The sad reality is that not every school will offer financial aid but that’s okay!
Once you’ve done an analysis of each school that you are interested in, it’s time to start making decisions. More goes into picking your final choice of school than just how much it’ll cost you to go there. Sometimes, a more expensive school with a great program could outweigh a school that is closer to home and cheaper. It becomes incredibly important to spend time with your parents/guardians, as well as yourself, to find out what exactly you want out of the next few years of your life. If you are a high school senior going to college, I highly recommend reflecting on the questions you wrote down at the start of your college journey to figure out if you are still in the same place mentally. Many people experience extreme shifts in their interests further into the college process they are (I know I did!).
Some things that people commonly consider in the journey are their distance from family, the value of their education, and knowing where they want to work afterward. For me, I knew that my dream school would be one close to home. Staying in my home city (Austin) was something I really looked forward to when it came to making college decisions. While Austin has a number of schools with an excellent track record, I wanted to ensure that I would be getting a great education and connections for my adult life.
Perhaps the most important part of my “final decision phase”, though? Dodging senioritis! Senioritis is when someone in their Senior year begins to feel exhausted academically and disassociates from their school life, but this can be a risky trap to fall into! I made some of my best memories and friends in my senior year of high school by staying involved. I continued to work hard and kept up my work ethic to prepare for college and lots of incredible things happened in that “waiting time”! I was elected as the President of my school’s DECA chapter and got to travel to Florida with my friends one last time for a high school conference where we stayed up late and made some amazing memories. You can still have a “never stop learning” mentality even if your classes are easier and you feel ready to graduate.
At the end of the day, it is important to listen to your gut. Final decisions is one of the times when a lot of “unsolicited” advice can interfere with your thought process. There are lots of distractions on the road to success, but here are 10 Key Takeaways when moving onto your own college journey.
- Know what you want to study. Even if you are not certain, having a general idea can help you out.
- Plan for how you will handle college. Handling college both mentally and financially are big parts of success as a student.
- Pick the right college by balancing academics and personal interests. Fitting in on campus is a big part of success.
- Talk to your guidance counselor. A lot. Guidance counselors are trained in the wizardry that is college. Be honest and open with them about your goals.
- Use a website like Google Sheets to organize your scholarships. You can organize your life and optimize your opportunities by doing so.
- Plan out your SAT and ACT times in advance. The more time you have to prepare, the easier it’ll be for you to improve between test dates.
- Have a conversation with your parent/guardian about funding college before you choose. There are 10 things that you should be ready to talk to them about.
- Fill out your FAFSA sooner rather than later. This is your way of communicating to schools and lets them deliver you a financial aid offer faster.
- Avoid “senioritis” at all costs. While the last year of high school might seem like a great time to disconnect, continue to look for opportunities. You never know how something will pay off.
- Never stop learning. A good work ethic and confidence in yourself can go a long way. You can apply to the colleges that you love and be accepted!
Believing that you CAN choose the right college for your career is the first step to finalizing your first step into adulthood. This is your chance to practice being your own advocate. This means that you have to stand up for yourself and have a “never stop learning” mentality. Together, these skills will keep you open-minded to changes as they arrive (because college is full of them). For me, picking my dream school (The University of Texas at Austin) and being accepted meant so much to me and so much to my next 4+ years as a traditional student. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Longhorn and better yet, part of a community that I belonged in. The right college is only a step away and with the right resources and confidence, you can be there in no time.