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Making The Big Decision: A Retrospective on the College Decision Process


Spring has sprung and pre-collegiettesTM all over the country know what that means: it’s time to make The Big Decision. After four years of hard work, college  acceptance letters have arrived. And now, after a few long months of anticipatory nail-biting, the tables are turned and it is up to you to decide which school you want.  
But, unfortunately, this isn’t always easy. With all your options, and the pressure to make the right choice, how can you possibly know which is the best option for you? Is it the small private college your mom likes? Or the big state school your dad is rooting for? What about the mid-sized liberal arts college all your classmates seem to be into? AHH! Why is this decision so hard?

Well, don’t worry—I, and countless pre-collegiettesTM before you, have been in the exact same position. And here, from us to you, are some words of wisdom about what we wish we knew when we were in your place.

Making the Decision

One thing that’s for sure, among all the collegiettesTM surveyed, is that you should make the right choice for you and not for anyone else. Your parents, friends, teachers, and coaches all just want what’s best for you, but sometimes they don’t know what that is. And when it comes down to it, rankings aren’t as important as fit. Laura, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, says, “Your college will be your home for four years, and trust me, rankings won’t be what matters when you get there.” The only one who really knows what’s right for you is you, and if you make that right choice, everyone else will come around and support you in it. Your happiness and success is everyone’s mutual goal!

So if rankings aren’t that important, what is? Some major deciding factors should include academics, size, location, affordability, and passion. Is there a school that speaks to you? Then it’s probably the right choice for you. Keep your parents involved in the decision-making process, research the schools (if you can, try to visit them to get a feel of the campus), and talk your choices over with a college counselor or trusted confidante. “I researched my options and made sure I was educated on the universities I was choosing between,” says Kathryn Sullivan, a junior at University of Tennessee-Knoxville, “I got information about the academics as well as the fun stuff!” As Kathryn did, it’s important to think not only about whether the school offers all that you want academically, but also all that you need to be happy. You’ll thrive wherever you feel happy and comfortable, whether it’s a northeastern Ivy League university or a mid-western state school.

Lynda Lopez, a freshman at the University of Chicago, says, “I wish I would have known more about the importance of selecting the right school for me, beyond the prestige quality.”

Overall, it seems like it’s all about the fit. “When I ultimately picked my college, I went with what felt right,” says Laura from UNC-Chapel Hill, “Things like size, major, and location were all big factors in where I applied, but when it came down to the final decision, I went with my gut instinct on where I could really see myself living for four years. I couldn’t be happier!”


And if it looks like slim pickings…

Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you wish they would. Maybe you got a few too many disappointingly thin envelopes in the mail. Maybe your top choices all ended up saying no.  You might feel like everyone is pitying you and it sure can feel like the end of the world. But here’s the thing: it’s not (and they’re probably not, either).

As Nikki Fig, a senior at Emerson College says, “It feels like the most important and stressful contest of your life, but once June comes around, no one cares! I had some friends who transferred from what was their first-choice school and others who became unofficial mascots for the safety schools they once dreaded attending.”

Dry your tears, breathe in and out a few times, and get back to your usual happy self. It’s like going out for ice cream—sure, they might be out of cookies-n-cream, but that just means you get to try pralines-n-cream, instead!

It’s a big deal—but maybe not a BIG DEAL.

Do you still have a niggling bit of doubt about making your choice? Don’t. As long as you’ve done your research and listened to your gut, just relax. Chances are good that, if you go in with a good attitude, you can make any place feel like home. After all, you applied to all of these schools for a reason, right? So there probably isn’t even a wrong choice in the batch! As Brooke Kamenoff, a freshman at Northeastern University says, “In the end, it’s not as big a deal as you make it out to be. You’ll end up in the right place and everything will work out.”

And even if that’s not quite the case, there are a few things to keep in mind about your college decision.

First of all, as Emily, a freshman at Penn State University says, “it’s important to realize that college is the next four years of your life, but it is by no means your whole life. While the decision you make will make a difference in the way your life pans out, it is ultimately you and what you do at college and after college to apply yourself in life that will determine how your life ends up.” While your choice of school is obviously going to impact your future, it isn’t realistic to think that what school you choose will make or break your future. Ultimately, that’s still up to you.

Second of all, if you end up realizing that the school you chose really isn’t for you, you don’t even have to stick out the four years! You can already apply to transfer after just one term and, as long as you work hard wherever you are, you might even get into that dream school that didn’t quite come through on the first round. Transferring isn’t too shabby of an option and 75% of collegiettesTM polled consider it to be a good option for remedying wrong-choice-blues. Lauren Rogala, a freshman at Belmont University, says, “I didn’t feel a sense of belonging at all my freshman year, so I am transferring to a school I absolutely love, I couldn’t be more excited.” There’s really no shame in changing your mind (you’re not a politician—at least, not yet—and no one cares if you flip-flop) and you don’t have much to lose!

And for those who are just starting to enter into the process… 

For all those eleventh grade pre-collegiettes™ out there, senior year is coming on fast. You know you should be stoked—king (er, queen) of the jungle, baby!—but you can already feel all the college pressure and you know it can just get worse. Try to relax, though, because we’ve been there, we’ve done that (and stressed like that) and some of that stress really isn’t worth it.

Cat Combs, a junior at Tulane, says “I wish someone had told me to relax and that I’d get in somewhere. I was seventh in my class so I was guaranteed to get into at least one school but I was terrified that I’d never get accepted anywhere. It added too much unnecessary stress.”

And if you aren’t at the top of your class? “I wish I had known that most of the grade-grabbing friends I went to school with would flame out in Ivy League schools,” says Jake Duhaime, Emerson ’08, “If you are driven and determined, it doesn’t matter what school you go to, as long as you are willing to work for it.”

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t work hard at getting in. Alexandra Pannoni, a sophomore at Towson University, says that she wished she had known that the SAT does matter. “I didn’t study for the test AT ALL and I took it four times. I wish I would have cared about that a little bit more because I could have done better if I really tried and wouldn’t have had to taken it so many times. A lot of colleges still look at it.”

But don’t take the test too seriously. It is just a test, after all. Ali Nigro, a senior at Emmanuel College, wishes someone had told her “that I won’t remember my SAT scores four years later (!) and that it all truly works out in the end.”

Basically, don’t stress about what you can’t control, but do what you can to make it work out. “Start as early as possible,” advises Krista Evans, a junior at Simmons College, “don’t wait until the last minute.” Similarly, “I wish someone had helped me focus my applications more,” reflects Laura Hoxworth, a senior at UNC Chapel Hill, “Applying to a ton of schools won’t increase your chances of getting into your top schools – it will only stress you out! I think the important part is to do a lot of research and decide what schools you REALLY want to go to before you apply.”

There you have it: we wish we had known that we should do our best, and put procrastination to bed, but that we really shouldn’t stress! So if you’re a junior and the college application process is beginning for you, know that it will be okay. And if you’re a senior wrapping it up, [take a moment to pat yourself on the back for everything that you did right. Do your little happy dance (I won’t judge you for still Cabbage-Patching like it’s 1988) and belt out some ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ or whatever floats your boat. Then breathe in deep, make your choice, and get ready to have the time of your life next fall. No matter what, great things await you!

And last but not least, CONGRATULATIONS!



Members of the Her Campus Team 






Danai Kadzere is a Human Evolutionary Biology Concentrator at Harvard College. In addition to Her Campus, she blogs at http://living-learning-eating.blogspot.com and loves acting, reading, writing, fashion, trying new things, yogurt, apples, and life. After college, she's being absolutely ridiculous and moving at NYC to be an actress or a poor writer (whichever sounds more plausible to you).
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