7 Tips To Make a College Decision as a Family

Skip decision anxiety with organization and honesty.

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The prospect of choosing a college is exciting, but the closer it gets to decision time, the more anxiety it can cause. Use these tips for a stress-free decision.


Visiting colleges with Lindsey was fun because it was all about possibilities. Even applying to colleges included a certain amount of excitement. But decision time was more anxiety-provoking. It was time to make a final call.

Here's what helped us, and can help you, too:

1. Get organized: Put all the information in one place. We used spreadsheets, which helped to take some of the emotion out of the decision. We could see all the variables for each school right next to each other.

We included sticker price, financial awards, school size, distance from home, and more. You should include whatever factors will be influencing your decision.

[Use these five tips to organize your college search.]

2. Focus on finances: Get real about the role that finances will play in a college choice. For most, financial considerations will at least be part of the equation.

But as the list narrows and the financial aid letters start to arrive, you need to have an honest conversation with your student about whether finances will be the overriding factor or somewhere farther down the list of priorities. If some schools have become financially unfeasible, be honest and take those off the table to simplify the decision.

[Find out how to financially prepare your child for college.]

3: Keep an open mind: Reassure your student that there isn't a "right" choice. Many will argue that there is one perfect school for each student, but we found that many schools could be the right one, although each would have come with its own experiences. Realizing that can take some of the pressure off your child.

[Read why you shouldn't search for a perfect fit school.]


I will admit that I got a little carried away during the college search process. The Common Application allowed me to submit applications to a number of enticing schools with the click of a button.

[Find out how to save time on college applications.]

Actually choosing a school, however, was much more difficult. Here's what we did to make a final decision:

1. Be honest: Is there a school still on your list only because your parents or guidance counselors are pushing it?

If you have no intention of attending a certain school, don't keep it under consideration just to save face. This can save you a lot of stress as the decision gets down to the wire.

2. Picture the day-to-day: Many students think about where they can picture themselves, which is a good place to start.

If you can't see yourself living, going to class, and attending social events on a certain campus, take it out of consideration.

3. Be realistic: Beware of blindly following the concept of "where you feel you belong." There is probably more than one school at which you can thrive. Don't commit yourself to a dream school without considering things like cost, travel, and majors.

[Estimate your net price of college.]

4. Make a decision: Consider everything, but realize when it's time to decide. When faced with a difficult decision, it's tempting to want to make one more visit or speak with one more admissions counselor. At some point, however, you have all the information you need to make the right decision.

When you've narrowed a list down to two or three schools, take a day or two to do some soul-searching. Then, make the final decision and try to relax about it.

Once you know where you'll be attending, you can move on to other, equally exciting aspects of the college planning process, such as housing and potential campus organizations.