There is a variety of feelings that candidates may experience after they receive their final college responses: pride, excitement, anticipation, disappointment, numbness. But in the following week, one feeling dominates in particular: relief that the process is finally over. In the few weeks after that, however, there is a sneaking realization that more decisions need to be made and preparations begun before the journey can actually start.
The good news is that I will continue doing my best to present the pertinent issues to you clearly and engagingly. The better news is that if you are a college admit, these decisions foreshadow a golden summer – the best of your life so far: a final period in which you face no real responsibilities or worries.
Over the coming weeks, I will dive in-depth into each of the following topics. For now, focus on the key points that should inform your decision-making.
Decision 1: Finalizing Your College Selection
So you have a general idea of what is important to you. But, as other people begin to weigh in on what school you should pick, you realize that there is so much more at stake than “choosing somewhere with good weather”.
When I was trying to decide between colleges, my dad gave me some very helpful advice: use a “matchstick method”. First, I made a list of the key attributes that were important to me. Then, I weighted those factors. Finally, using matchsticks, I scored each college (out of the assigned weighting). When I counted total matchsticks, I had found my college! Now obviously you can use a fancy excel sheet (see below), a disposable napkin, or anything other than match sticks, but I had a lot of fun doing it this way and was genuinely surprised by the result in the end.
|Factor||Weight||College 1||College 2||College 3|
Table 1: Example of the “matchstick method” at work
Below, I have broken down most of the considerations behind selecting a college. Browsing through the questions should help you to figure out what factors are important to you.
- Is the major you want to pursue offered at the college?
- When do you have to declare your major?
- Can you switch majors easily?
- Does the school have good resources (e.g. professors, labs, career services, internships) in your areas of interest?
- How big are the classes?
- Is it easy to add a minor, a double major or a certificate program?
- What electives (classes not required for your major) are interesting?
- How difficult is the course work? / What percentage of students graduate within 4 years? / What is the average GPA of a graduating student?
- Can you do a study abroad program fairly easily? What grades are required to do so? Is it feasible to study abroad as an engineer/ pre-med student for example?
- Can your CAPE/ A Level/ IB provide credits to graduate early? (Article at a later date on whether you should do this or not)
Key Takeaway: Choosing a school with the best academics may not always be the right choice for you. As an international, you will also be coping with new classes, different teaching styles and unfamiliar study methods. Make sure you think carefully about what you can handle before selecting a school for its academics only.
- What level of competition will you be playing at e.g. D I/ D II/ D III?
- Will this school help you to achieve your athletic ambitions e.g. going pro?
- How much playing time will you get? / Are you ok with being on a great team but not getting to play often?
- How often and at what times during the day do student athletes train?
- Can you maintain a sport/work/life balance at this school?
- Is there academic support e.g. study hall for athletes?
- Does the team go dry (no alcohol) for a portion of the season?
- Did you like the coach/ team if you met them?
Key Takeaway: Selecting a college for athletics is largely dependent on how important the team will be to other parts of your life. Some teammates are best friends, get housed together on campus and join the same fraternities/ sororities. Other teams just train together. Try to meet the team or speak to a past/ current athlete to get a sense of how a particular college matches your preferences.
3. Student Life
- What does student life revolve around e.g. dorms, Greek life (sororities and fraternities), residential colleges, football games, city life, etc?
- Can you become a student athlete by ‘walking on’ to a varsity team?
- Are there club (between colleges) or intramural (within the school) sports that you want to join?
- Are there other clubs that look interesting e.g. dance groups, singing groups?
- Does the school have a religious affiliation that affects student life?
- Is the campus located in a city or near a city?
- How big is the campus? / How far away are the classes? / How do students get from one class to another e.g. bike?
- What is the weather usually like?
- Is it a scenic campus?
- How much does the college cost?
- What are the averages costs of living?
- Are most activities school sponsored or will you be paying for most of your socializing?
6. Student body
- What is the size of the undergraduate body?
- What is the ethnic makeup of the students? Are you comfortable being a minority?
- What are the political leanings on campus?
The best way to answer some of these questions is to talk to past students or to visit campus. If you visit, make sure to let the university know so that they can welcome you and put you in touch with the right people. Reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you don’t know any alumni and want help getting in touch with someone. If you call the universities, they will usually be very accommodating with finding students for you to ask questions. And, of course, you can find information on their official websites or blogs like College Confidential.
Decision 2: Square Away the Legal Stuff
This portion is especially relevant for international admits. Take care of immigration early since the visa process can have many unforeseen delays!
- Accept school offer
- Follow the process outlined by the university: something like this
- Pay the fee, receive an I-20 and complete the application
- Make sure you are prepared for your visa interview
2. Financial Aid
- Determine if you need to send a separate acceptance letter for financial aid
- Figure out if you have to submit supporting information
- Understand what type of aid you are being offered: free money, free money dependent on meeting particular criteria, earned money e.g. work-study program, borrowed money
- Be aware that you do NOT have to accept the full size of your aid package, so if you think you can get by with a smaller loan for example, you should try to do so
- Understand the financial aid process in the future: can you apply for more aid in the following year? Do you have to reapply for aid or submit your financials every year to keep receiving aid?
- Consider scholarships that may be available to first year students
- Your university may request your end of year transcript, so make sure that your grades do not lead to you losing your offer
- Know how your end of year transcript is linked to any financial aid package you have been offered
Final Note: Don’t forget to contact the colleges you are not attending. While this is not completely necessary, it’s a really nice gesture – remember that there are other students anxiously sitting on the waiting list, hoping to receive your spot at this school.
Decision 3: Start Thinking About Dorm Room and Campus Life
There is a lot to consider when preparing to move into a dorm for the first time. Start thinking about whether you want a roommate, what you need to purchase in terms of clothing, furniture and essentials, how far in advance you should fly up to school, what computer you should use, what meal plan you should get, how much you should spend. More to come in my next post!