How to Pick the Best College for You (and Your Wallet)

What if you’ve gotten multiple acceptances and can’t decide where to send that one deposit check?

Mark Kantrowitz
By + More

Some of the third-tier institutions might provide academic scholarships to attract talented students. So in that case, you'll be balancing a much more generous financial aid package—maybe even a free ride—in exchange for attending a less well-known institution. And if you're a talented student who's driven, you can do well anywhere. If you need prodding from the outside, you might not do as well in a less aggressive environment.

But in general, if the difference in cost between colleges is less than $1,000 a year, cost should not be a factor. But if it's more than $5,000, I would strongly recommend going with the lower-cost school.

Should students think twice about schools that have high rates of loan defaults?

They can check that online. The Department of Education's College Navigator provides that information. Or they can Google "default rates," or "cohort default rates," and they can check each individual school. A high default rate is a sign of one of two things. Either the students aren't graduating, or they are graduating but they're not getting jobs. For some colleges, students don't get jobs because the school serves students from a region with high unemployment rates, or some other demographic factor. But if it's a college that draws from a wide area of the country and it has a high default rate, then you should consider that maybe that says something about the quality of education. If it's under 10 percent, that's probably not worth focusing too much on. If the difference in default rates is only a few percent, then that's not enough of a difference to tell you anything meaningful. But if you've got one college with a 25 percent default rate and another that has a 2 percent default rate, that difference is significant.

Anything else seniors should be mindful of?

Students might not want to hear this, but listen to your parents! They can provide good advice. That doesn't mean you have to do what they say; it just means listen and take what they say into account.

[Read College Acceptance Tips From Senior Jessica Iori.]

Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of America's Best Colleges.