By Bettina Weil
You survived the college application process, waited patiently for replies, and you got in—to several good colleges. Now it’s time to commit. Inevitably, questions arise: Will I fit in? Am I good enough to succeed there? Is it worth the financial burden, and will it pay off? Should I borrow that much money?
The colleges that selected you have pros and cons in culture, academic programs and financial offering, so how do you make an informed decision about which one to commit to for the next four years? These are my best tips to get through the decision process:
Is this College a Good Fit for Me? The college of your choice will be your home and your family for the next four years. I encourage students, if they can, to visit the colleges they are considering and talk to current students and recent alumni; they can provide the most valuable and honest information about the student body and the “vibe” on campus. Here are some questions you may want to consider:
- Why was this particular college one of your choices in the first place?
- Where did your high school friends go to college and how does their experience differ from yours?
- Name two things that you love about this college and two things that you would change.
- What do students do on weekends? Is weekend life mostly on campus or off?
- How important are fraternities in campus social life?
- How accessible are academic counselors? How accessible is the faculty?
- What would you have liked to have known about this college when you first came that you know now?
- What kind of student wouldnotdo well in this college?
- What are the residential options? What advice do you have on that?
- Is this a politically active campus? Which causes draw more students?
Academics: Will I Find What I am Looking For? Talking to professors at the college is the best way to evaluate whether the institution is in sync with the academic direction you want to take. Do you want freedom of choice in your courses, or do you want a core curriculum? If professors are not available, talk to an admissions representative—and make sure to tell them you are an admitted student. These are some of the questions I would suggest:
- How is your (major of choice) department different from those in other universities?
- Which courses are required, and which are electives? How much flexibility is there in the curriculum?
- Do you provide internship opportunities? Examples?
- How many students study (major of choice)?
- Do you collaborate with certain companies/organizations for research or other projects? If so, which ones?
- Is there a direction in which the department of (your major of choice) is heading?
- What are your graduates doing? (Examples?)
- What are the academic and career paths students usually take after they graduate from (major of choice)?
- Can I study (your major of choice) and still take a semester abroad? Which would be an ideal destination for this area of study?
- What is your graduation rate in 4 years?
Money Matters!If you have any questions about the financial aid package your received, this is the time to ask a financial aid officer. They are usually accessible and will go over the details of the offer. When comparing financial aid “packages” it is very important that you compareapples to apples, as there are different types of scholarships, grants and loans. The truth is in the details! Here are some questions to ask yourself when you are evaluating financial aid offers:
- How much gift money (scholarships and grants) was I awarded?If it is college that is offering gift money, make sure that you understand the duration of the scholarship and the contingencies (usually a minimum GPA). The state or federal government may offer additional grants to those students who have demonstrated need. Your family’s need will be re-evaluated every year when you reapply for financial aid.
- What about loans?Federal loans can be subsidized; which indicates that the federal government will subsidize them until six months after graduation. Other federal loans are unsubsidized, where the interest will accrue during the time the student is in college and added to the principle. All federal loans start repayment six months after graduation, presumably when the student is gainfully employed. Private loans are, well, private. Read the fine print! Repayment of private loans usually start as soon as the funds are borrowed.
- Is work-study right for me?Work-study is another way to help students earn some cash by employing them part-time on campus. This is the only part of the financial aid package that will go to the student’s pocket to help with petty cash, with an added benefit: it will help them structure their day and meet new people.
My advice: Do your homework. This is the most important investment you will make!
Bettina Weilis the founder of Weil College Advising, LLC.firstname.lastname@example.org