Your acceptance letters arrived, and you're in—congratulations! Now comes the tough part. If more than one school said "yes," you have until May 1 to make your final college selection.
The decision can be anxiety-inducing, with a variety of factors coming into play—price, proximity, academics, and extracurriculars—and friends, family, and teachers reminding you that what college you choose will impact the rest of your life. Stressful, right?
[Slideshow: 10 steps to picking the right school.]
To help you navigate your decision making process, current college students share tips and advice from their own selection experience:
"I always tell people to sit on the quad, away from the tour guides and away from the admissions counselors," says Hartnett, who leads campus tours as a student ambassador. "Then you'll get the experience of the school and what it's like to sit on the quad, which is a big part of being in college … [and] being a part of that community."
2. Talk to high school alums: Once you have visited the campuses—some more than once—reach out to alumni from your high school who attended the colleges you're considering and seek their input.
Graduates from your school will likely be more than happy to talk with you about the college they chose, says Marisa Sweeny, a sophomore at Binghamton University—SUNY, especially if you're considering going there, too.
"I knew a number of really smart and capable alumni from my hometown who had gone to Binghamton and found a lot of success in various disciplines," she says.
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While Sweeny chose Binghamton over four other schools, including Fordham University and Boston University, mostly based on cost, she says talking to graduates from your high school can give you additional insight.
3. Weigh the costs: College is a rewarding experience, but it can be expensive—and that should factor into your final decision, says Naomi Roberts, a second year student at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
While Georgia Tech was originally a backup option for Roberts, who wanted to get as far away from her home state of Georgia as possible, two scholarships plus in-state tuition made it the logical choice financially, she says.
"It was tempting to choose another school with a bigger 'name,'" says Roberts, who selected Georgia Tech over the University of Virginia, Rice University, Johns Hopkins University, and Tufts University. "But I realized that it was much more important to graduate without piles of debt."
4. Relax and have fun: While the decision is an important one, high school seniors should take a deep breath and relax, Roberts says.
"The best advice someone gave me when I was deciding which college to pick was simple: It doesn't matter where you go; you'll be happy wherever you choose, so have fun with the process," she says.
[Get more tips for narrowing your college choices.]
And if it turns out you aren't happy, your decision is not set in stone, says American's Hartnett.
"When you're trying to make a really stressful, pinpoint decision, oftentimes you're not going to make the most well-informed one," she says. "So just relax, and you can transfer if you decide you make the wrong decision."
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