How To Choose A College: A Guide For High School Seniors

For high school seniors who plan to attend college, this is a stressful time. After hearing back from a variety of schools, they now have to decide which one to attend. My own experience with this seems like it was so long ago already! I’m all about passing down what I’ve learned in order to help people, so I asked other University of Iowa students, as well as recent grads, what advice they would give to those stressed-out seniors.*

"There were three big factors for me: Which worked out best financially? Which would have the best program for my field of study? And, which felt right? It came down to three places. One felt right and had good writing and psych programs, but didn’t offer me any scholarships. One offered me almost a full ride, but didn’t feel right and didn’t have any particularly standout programs for my field. One offered me a decent amount of money, had the best program in my field in the nation and felt right. I chose that last one. Decide which of those is most important for you– feeling right and having the best program outweighed the money for me, but the money helped me choose between two good programs!" -Sophie

"If you're in between schools, write a list of pros and cons for each and reflect to make the best choice!" -Alyssa

"Always be open to talking to department heads of the programs you’re interested in! I dodged a bullet from a grad school by talking to the department head and finding out he was a sexist clown. It could make or break an entire experience, so NEVER be shy about it." -Patsy

"Don’t pick a school just because your childhood best friend or significant other picked it. It’s your time and money that you’ll be spending, so you need to focus on what’s right for you. Friends come and go… even two very best friends from high school will grow apart somewhat in college. But you’ll always be you, so put yourself first. I’m an out-of-state student and didn’t know ANYONE when I came here, but I’ve never been lonely. Relax. You will make friends, faster than you think, too! Please, don’t be afraid to choose a particular college because you’ll be the only one from your high school there." -Elizabeth

"Do your first two years at a community college, then transfer to a state school to take classes for your actual major. College is not worth $100k in loans. Your priorities should be: cost, location and size/culture of school. Unless a school offers a very specific major with faculty you KNOW will help you network in your field, you will get the same education no matter where you go. Start with an AA then transfer for your BA. Trust me." -Cordelia

"Affordability should be your biggest concern, especially if you're majoring in a subject that probably won't mean a guaranteed job offer once you have your degree." -Ellen

"You will not be the same person at the end of these four years, but that isn't a bad thing." -Claire

"I’ve honestly found that I don’t think it matters at all that I chose the University of Iowa. I ended up choosing it for financial reasons, but I agonized over the decision. I think my experience would be comparable at any school. I love my friends here, but I think I would have found amazing friends anywhere. Unless you want to be a high-powered politician or a CEO, where it matters what connections you can make in undergrad, I would make the decision based on finances." -Ingrida

"If you aren't as excited about the school as Rory Gilmore was about Yale, it's probably not the right school. Can you see yourself happily living and working in the community in terms of internship opportunities, food options, parks etc.?" -Shannon

Last but not least, my mom pointed out that college is really what you make of it. Speak up in class, join some clubs if they appeal to you, talk to people, take care of yourself and reach out if you need help. Doing your best, regardless of where you are, is the biggest factor in how much you enjoy your college years.

To the seniors out there: Good luck! You can do it! Feel free to reach out to me with any other questions you may have and I’ll do my best to answer them.

If you’re currently in college or have already graduated, is there any crucial college decision advice you would like to add?

*Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Photos: cover, 1, 2, 3, 4