It's official. Colleges have released their admission decisions. By the time all of the mail is open, you should have options. Some will include scholarships or special recognition. Others will simply convey the invitation to enroll. In any case, congratulations! Your hard work has paid off and you get to make the final choice of a college destination.
You need to choose well, however, to ensure a successful experience over the next four years of college. Now, more than ever, you need to be attentive to the details. As you enter the final phase of decision-making, start by rechecking your priorities. Why are you going to college? What do you hope to accomplish? In what type of environment can you accomplish these things best?
Using your priorities as a guide, it's time to examine more closely the colleges that accepted you. Return to their campuses where you can immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and overall culture of the places. How do they feel to you? The following are eight tips for getting the most out of these campus visits:
1. Spend a weeknight in a residence hall; eat at least two meals in the dining hall and go to two classes in different disciplines including an introductory first year class.
2. Talk with professors from the academic departments that interest you as well as the appropriate pre-professional adviser for those programs. Do you see a home for yourself in those environments?
3. Hang out. Watch people. Listen to them talk. Ask them what they think about campus life, politics, sports, religion, or whatever is important to you.
[Learn more about college tours.]
4. If you are a recruited athlete, meet with the coach as well as members of the team. These folks may be your support system for the next four years. Where will you fit best?
5. If you have academic support needs, talk with the coordinator of the Special Needs Support Center or the Writing Center. Look for evidence that you will get the support you need.
6. If you have financial concerns, make an appointment with the financial aid office. Take copies of your financial aid application and your 2010 tax returns for reference. Document changes in your family circumstances. Don't assume that troubling financial differences will be worked out after you enroll.
[Explore the U.S. News guide to paying for college.]
7. Inquire about safety information, crime statistics, and campus escort programs.
8. Use good judgment as you explore the social scene. Know your limits.
In other words, take in as much as possible. Most students who emerge from this process acknowledge that much of the decision-making comes down to a gut feeling. Let your gut go to work for you. Make sure the college you choose fits comfortably and feels good before you commit.
Finally, a word of caution is in order. Your life is about to change as colleges roll out the "red carpet." You'll be invited to acceptance parties and open houses in your honor. Prominent alumni will call to wish you well. Some schools may even offer to fly you to their campuses for the weekend. In the midst of all these ego boosts, you need to stay focused.
Do your own detective work and remain true to your priorities. Much of the activity over the next four weeks is staged by colleges for your benefit. Now that you have been admitted, they want you to enroll—and that's fine. Just make sure you sort through the excitement to find evidence that the school in question truly values you for what you do well and is prepared to invest in your success.