5. Delve into the departments: Students and parents may look to college rankings to help make a decision, but don't forget that academic prestige can be examined on a smaller scale. A school that excels in biology, for example, may have a less regarded history department.
Do some Internet research or reach out directly to faculty members in your prospective department, Roth recommends. Give extra consideration to a school whose faculty members are still actively engaged with employers in a given field, as this can open doors to internships, research opportunities, and jobs, he says.
6. Investigate the job connections: Developing a four-year plan to land a job is easier with a robust campus career services center, a vital tool for students that can differ widely by college, Roth says. Try to glean specifics about job fairs, on-campus interviews, and even the number of students per career counselor at the school.
"How often can [a student] actually get into the career service office to talk to somebody?" Roth recommends asking. "Can they get in there once a semester, or are they going to be lucky to get in there once during the whole four years that they're going to school? You can judge a college to some degree by the number of career services people: Is the college putting their money in a place that will actually help the students?"
[See how the job landscape is brightening for college grads.]
7. Compare financial aid packages: Though many schools have yet to release full financial aid offers, parents and students can begin to explore their financial options through free tools like the one offered by SimpleTuition. By inputting tuition and sources of aid, loans, and cash, the tool shows users what a monthly loan payment will look like after graduation at up to three schools simultaneously.
"Colleges with higher sticker prices might actually not be much more expensive on a monthly basis," says Kevin Walker, cofounder of SimpleTuition. "Having those numbers in hand when you make a decision among the schools you're thinking about can be really helpful."
[Explore the U.S. News Paying for College guide.]
8. Compromise: As the deadline nears and tensions rise, students and parents may butt heads over a college decision. "Communication is the key," says Doug Badger, director of admission at Grinnell College. "Students and parents need to sit down and really talk about…the pieces that are serving as roadblocks to some consensus, and step through them piece by piece." In many cases, parents should advise without becoming overbearing or making the student's decision themselves, experts say.
9. Don't take rejection personally: You shouldn't dwell on a rejection letter, even one from a dream school, counselors assert. "It's hard for somebody who has their heart set on something at 17 or 18 years old to find out that they didn't get what they want," Roth, the college coach, acknowledges.
"But all you can do [as a parent] is empathize, sympathize, and try to point out to them that there are other alternatives. There is always another way." An even worse result, counselors say, is letting disappointment stymie the decision you still have to make.
10. Don't procrastinate: May 1 is rapidly approaching. "What you see is: 'It's a difficult decision, so I'm going to put it off,'" InsideTrack's Coplon says. "Start the work now. Spend the next few weeks doing some really serious work to make the right decision."
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