Where you go to college just may be the biggest decision that you’ve made so far in your life.
A little overwhelming, isn’t it? And with over 4,000 colleges and universities to consider, the choice is wide open. So, unless you’re someone who had your college decision made for you the moment your parents slipped their alma mater onesie on you at the age of two months, this is a decision that will take some time and thought.
When should you start working towards making this decision? Ideally, you should start thinking it through the middle of your Junior year in high school. But if you’re already past that golden age, no worries, you still have plenty of time!
To help you along your way, I’ve laid out 8 steps for you to consider in this decision-making journey…
1) Decide how much you want to spend on application fees.
Yep – there will most likely be an application fee at each college. Deciding what you’re willing to pay in application fees will, in turn, dictate how many colleges you can apply to.
2) Decide if you want to go Out-of-State or In-State.
Check out this blog for more information on why it matters whether or not you stay close to home.
3) Decide if you want to go to a Private or Public school.
This article discusses the differences between private and public schools and why it’s important to your decision.
Note: There is no problem with applying to both public and private, in-state and out-of-state schools. But having an idea of which you prefer before you start applying is helpful.
4) Decide (or at least think about) what you want to major in.
Do you have to have your life trajectory figured out before donning that orientation name tag on your first day in college? Absolutely not. But take some time to consider what you’d like to study – what classes did you most enjoy in high school? What jobs intrigue you? What salary would you like to make after graduation? What is the job market saying you should major in? These questions can all help inform your decision. Once you’ve decided what major you’d like to pursue, look for schools that are especially good in that field.
Note: Don’t be afraid to switch majors once you’re in school. Sometimes you just don’t know what you’ll like until you try! But I will warn you that the more you delay in switching your major, the more likely it is that you’ll have to tack on an extra year to your college career (extra year means extra money).
Tip: If you really have no clue what you’d like to pursue, I’d suggest taking a year off to either explore a particular field in the job market or take classes at a community college.
5) Decide (and be honest about) what you can afford.
Your future self wants to tell you that this is a very important question to ask.
And no, debt for school is not always a good thing. College debt is a bit more nuanced than that.
You have a few different payment options for college – out-of-pocket (this is what you can pay out-right every semester), grants & scholarships (FREE money), loans (NOT free money), and work-study (EARNED money).
Tip: A good summer job is a great way to save up and pay for some of that tuition.
By this step, you’ll probably have narrowed your choice down to three or four colleges, which is a good thing because applying to colleges is no fun. But, it must be done! Early applications are usually due at the start of November whereas regular admission applications are generally due sometime in January or early February.
If at all possible, I would suggest that you go visit and get a real sense of the college. You may be surprised how actually being on campus can change your opinion of a certain school.
8) Make your Decision
That’s right. You’ve arrived. Make your decision and then get excited about your decision – buy yourself a t-shirt and talk it up to all of your friends. It’s an exciting stage of life you’re entering into – especially if you’ve thought your decision through and made the best possible one for you!