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Seniors: How to Evaluate Your College Options

April is finally here; the waiting game is over. You know what your options are and now must make a decision. For those of you who have already committed to a college: Congratulations! The hard decisions are over and you can start planning for the fall. But for those of you who are unsure, there is plenty you can do now to make an informed decision.

During “normal” times, we would have strongly recommended that you visit your top choice colleges in person during the admitted-student events that used to be held on campus each year. However, given that many colleges are not offering in-person events, you may need to assess your options using other means.

During “normal” times, we would have strongly recommended that you visit your top choice colleges in person during the admitted-student events that used to be held on campus each year. However, given that many colleges are not offering in-person events, you may need to assess your options using other means.

Campus life

  • Watch for emailed invitations to admitted student events, and plan to attend all events. Pay close attention to what the current students say about their experience.
  • Join admitted student groups on Instagram and other social media to get a sense of the other students who will be your classmates at that college or in that major.
  • Read the college’s mission and values statements to get a sense of who they are and what they value.
  • Review students’ comments on Niche.com, looking for themes about housing, diversity, athletics, and other non-academic aspects of the college.
  • Talk with current students about their experiences. Reach out to friends who attend or ask your counselor to recommend a former student from your school who currently attends that college.
  • Use social media to follow social and academic student organizations, such as the pre-med club or Greek organizations. The images and comments they post will tell you a lot.
  • Read the campus newspaper, which will give you insight into the students, events, politics, strengths and challenges of that college. You can find the newspaper by Googling “[name of college] student newspaper.”
  • Watch YouTube videos of students giving tours of their dorm rooms or talking about their experiences.
    Review the housing website to learn more about your housing and dining options.
  • Check Campus Pride Index to learn about the college’s LGBTQIA+ inclusive policies, programs and practices.
  • Review the college’s published student profile or their Common Data Set (Part A) to evaluate the college’s diversity and gender balance. You can find this information by Googling “[name of the college] common data set.”

Academic experience

  • Review the graduation requirements, including those for the specific college you are admitted to if you are admitted to a university.
  • Dig through the department website of your intended major. Read about the courses offered, requirements to complete the major, student internship and research opportunities, professors’ areas of research, and how much information is provided about the undergraduate program.
  • Read comments by current students in your intended major on Niche.com, looking for themes.
  • Review comments on Rate My Professors about professors who teach the introductory courses for your major, and look for themes in those comments.
  • Talk with current students in that major at that college, if possible, about their experiences.
  • If you look at college rankings by major, be sure to examine the ranking methodology and review several ranking systems to get a clearer picture. Focus on quality of teaching and student experience rather than research funding and publication record.

Career services & outcomes

  • Check the college’s 4- and 6-year graduation rates by reviewing the college’s Common Data Set (Part B), and reach out to the admissions office if you have questions.
  • Review LinkedIn to see the major employers of graduates from that college.
  • Read the college’s career center website to see how detailed it is. How do students make appointments to talk with a counselor? What services do they offer? Are there career-specific counselors, such as counselors dedicated to medical or law school planning and admissions?
  • Review your major department’s website to evaluate whether career services are woven into the academic programs.

Support services

  • If you have been diagnosed with a learning difference or suspect you may have one, review the college’s disability services website to understand what types of services they provide and how accommodations are implemented.
  • Try to gauge the culture for students with learning disabilities by reviewing The K&W Guide to College Programs and Services
  • Check to see if your colleges are “JED Campuses,” which are campuses that have worked with The JED Foundation to implement a mental health strategic plan to support the health and wellbeing of students.
  • Read students’ comments on Niche.com about their experiences accessing learning difference and mental health support services, and look for themes in the comments.

Cost

  • Discuss with your parents the family budget for college.
  • Review your offer letters to evaluate the costs to you of attending that college. Financial aid letters tend to be difficult to understand, by design. So, if there are any aspects of the financial aid offer that you do not understand, please schedule an appointment with a financial aid officer at that college to discuss the offer.
  • Consider whether the cost of attending that college will limit your opportunity to go to graduate school or have other experiences.
  • If you plan to take out loans, review the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook and other resources to estimate how much you are likely to earn in the first year of your career relative to the amount you can expect to accumulate in loans if you attend that college.
  • Go to StudentAid.gov to learn about the terms and conditions for receiving federal student or parent loans, and make sure that you clearly understand the terms and conditions of repayment for the loans before committing to a college.

These are not the only ways to evaluate a college, but if you do these things, you will have much greater insight into what you can expect over the next four years at each of your colleges.

For juniors and parents of juniors, please use these tips to research colleges.

Finally, we still encourage seniors to visit the campuses, if allowed by the colleges. Some college campuses remain closed, due to the pandemic. Please do not attempt to gain entry to those campuses, but you may still be able to visit the community around the campus and get a feel for what it would be like to attend that college. Other colleges are providing one-on-one campus tours with admitted students and their families only, and some are allowing admitted and prospective students to tour the campus on their own, if they abide by the campus COVID-19 rules. Please review the COVID-19 policies on your colleges’ websites before planning your visit; even better, reach out to the admissions office to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information.

If you need help deciding, please reach out. We can help. Once you have made your choice, embrace it!

Posted in Education Tips & Strategies

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