College decisions are stressful—there are so many things to consider! What do your parents want? What do your friends want? But most of all, what do you want? With a whirlwind of opinions coming from every which way, it can be hard to keep your eye on what really matters in choosing the right school for you. Admissions counselors and college advisers from around the nation have given us a list that may surprise you of things that shouldn’t affect your college decision.
1. It costs a fortune.
Although it may seem ridiculous not to consider tuition prices when applying to schools, in truth, the school with the highest “sticker price” may not actually turn out to be the most expensive school for you. As Judi Robinovitz, a certified educational planner and the founder of Score At The Top, explains, between financial aid grants and potential scholarship opportunities, you really can’t tell what the actual price will be for any given school until your financial aid packages come in.
So don’t rule out applying to a school simply because you don’t think it’s financially feasible. Rather, as Robinovitz encourages her clients, talk to your parents about how much financial aid you would need in order to accept an offer from your dream school. Then, make your decision once you know how much each school is offering.
2. It isn’t an Ivy.
We all know all about the “big-name” schools—the Ivies and the impressive-sounding universities that are steady forerunners on Forbes’s Top Colleges lists. Honestly, who wouldn’t be thrilled to tell their friends and family that they got into Harvard, or that they’ll be studying biological engineering at MIT? But while it can be tempting to choose a school because of its prestige, doing so puts you at risk of missing the perfect fit for you.
“Fit should include academics and probably location (for many people) and looking at all the factors that will make the college the right place for each particular student,” says Michelle Podbelsek, a senior counselor at College Counseling Associates. “That relates to the student going through a process of self-discovery to understand and identify their own personal priorities.”
College should be some of the four best years of your life, but if you are in a place that doesn’t feel right to you, it will be hard for you to find lasting friendships, academic success or, most importantly, happiness when you’re there.
3. You’ve never heard of it before.
When you’ve never even heard of a school and your adviser insists upon adding it to your college list, it can be hard to imagine yourself actually going there or even considering it. But until you’ve given a school an open-minded evaluation, it would be unfair—to the university and to yourself—to rule it out. After all, you didn’t know about your favorite band until you gave their music a listen, or that you’d love your favorite food until you dared to try it.
Robinovitz says that in order to really get a sense of what a school’s like, you have to come as close as you can to walking in a student’s shoes. So, what’s the closest thing? Campus visits! Robinovitz recommends that students visit as many campuses as possible, taking a close look at the student body and asking themselves if they can see themselves as students there.
“Being socially comfortable is as important as the academics,” she says. And the “right school” is unique to every student. So visit as many campuses as possible—no matter how unlikely you think it is that you’d go there. And most importantly, make an active effort to keep an open mind.
4. It’s not the school your parents want you to go to.
Like many decisions you make in high school, your college decision does inevitably involve your parents, and not having their support can make the process even more difficult. But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that you will be the one spending the next four years at your chosen school. And while your parents should certainly be allowed to express their opinions about which school you choose to attend, you should be able to feel good about your decision, too.
If you feel strongly about a school that your parents don’t approve of, Podbelsek suggests that you talk to them. “Students should sit down with their parents and explain very clearly their reasons for their choice,” she says. “Many times parents and teens have to negotiate a list that includes a range of options that will cover the bases and hopefully please everyone. It can be tough, and there are often serious arguments as the process of where to apply and where to attend is decided.”
It may not be an easy conversation, but it’s an important one to have. If you can talk to your parents and articulate all the reasons why the school you love is a great fit for you, they just might come around. Either way, you won’t know until you try!
5. They don’t have your major.
Another trap that pre-collegiettes often fall into is designing their college lists around their intended majors. However, according to Dr. Fritz Grupe, founder of MyMajors, approximately 50 percent of undergraduate students change their majors at least once.
Abby Carras, a senior at Columbia University, switched majors halfway through her junior year after realizing the classes she was taking toward her BA in applied math were the classes she enjoyed the least. “I had an epiphany that I was wasting my experience in college by not taking advantage of the classes that I found to be the most interesting,” she says.
Abby is definitely not alone. It is incredibly common—and not necessarily a bad thing—for students to fall in love with something new at school and to tailor their studies to that newfound passion. With most schools offering a wealth of majors to choose from—more than 80 at Columbia, and more than 300 at Arizona State University, to name a few—it has become more and more likely for students to discover something new to pursue at school. So rather than revolving your college search around schools known for their programs in a particular area of study, Robinovitz suggests focusing on finding places where you feel comfortable, and where you will have access to a wide range of opportunities, including—but not limited to—the academic area you think you’d like to pursue.
6. You don’t know anyone who’s going there.
It’s inevitable that you’ll encounter a few schools where you have no contacts. Perhaps nobody from your high school ever got in, or perhaps no one has ever applied. So why would you? It’s tempting to discount schools for this reason; going to a school where you know nobody can feel not only uncomfortable, but also downright scary.
But as tempting as it may be to focus on schools at which you already have a built-in community of friends and acquaintances, looking at options less populated by familiar faces could turn out to be a huge advantage. College is a chance to start anew, and it’s an opportunity for self-discovery.
“Coming to school with no friends from home was very difficult, but has ultimately been one of the best decisions I have ever made,” says Michelle Kauffman, a freshman at Barnard College. She admits that in the beginning, it wasn’t so easy to be what felt like one of the only girls who didn’t have friends. “I instantly wished I had people from home during orientation week, which felt like every other student’s camp or high school reunion,” she says.
But daring to come to a school without ties to her hometown allowed Michelle to branch out and meet new friends, which she thinks may not have happened had she come with a friend from home. “For many of my friends who made that choice, it destroyed their friendships and made returning home very uncomfortable for both of them,” she says. “It was hard at first knowing fewer people, but the advantages of being able to branch out have definitely outweighed any disadvantages.”
So as intimidating as it may be to imagine yourself surrounded entirely by strangers, it might just be the perfect way for you to start your next chapter!
7. Your significant other is going somewhere else.
Ultimately, whether or not you and your significant other choose to maintain your relationship in college is a decision that you will have to make together. However, when it comes to your college choice itself, your wants and needs should come first. If your SO supports and loves you, then he or she will want you to find the place that is the best possible fit for you. And while that might mean you won’t see each other as often as you’re used to, it will only strengthen the bond and trust that you already share. In wanting what is best for one another, you both can grow, learn and share your experiences. But following him or her to a place that isn’t right for you opens the floodgates for regret and, ultimately, resentment.
Ultimately, there are a lot of things to consider when making your college decision, but remember to ask yourself what it is you want—what are your priorities, your dreams and your goals?
“Each student should allow themselves to go through the process of questioning and examining their priorities, their personality and interests, their best fit—dig down deep to see what is really important to them,” Podbelesk says. “If you just follow blindly and apply only to where your mom went, where your brother goes, the place your best friend said was cool, then you are missing a very important life-skills learning opportunity.”