This week millions of 12th graders across the country are finding out which colleges have accepted them after a first ever pandemic college admissions cycle. For many seniors, it’s one filled with ups and downs, acceptance and rejection letters, wait lists and even questions as to whether a gap year would benefit them.
As this major life decision awaits, many families are having new conversations around distance, out of pocket costs, whether their graduate should have their college major figured out, all while society slowly re-opens through the devastating effects of the pandemic on higher education.
Here are five important factors to consider when picking which college to attend.
How a student feels about a school can be subject to a multitude of factors: university websites, campus visits, in-person guided tours, reviews from friends and family. But how does one figure out their fit if they’re already from a low income background and traveling during the pandemic is difficult due to work? Many universities are offering virtual tours, and revised COVID safe protocols in lieu of traditional visits. Other ways to understand a potential fit can be asking current students through alumni groups, online forums or seeking out former graduates of your high school that have attended a college that you are considering. Any of these steps will require students to get out of any comfort zones and be proactive around information gathering.
If you’re fortunate enough to take a weekend or a few days to visit a college tour after getting accepted, you’ll have to keep a few things in mind. The campus tour provided by the university will aim to get you to say “yes back” to that school. April is really meant to be the month that some of the decision making power is shifted back to parents and students; and no longer awaiting a university decision, something that would have been out of our control from application submission to offer announcements.
If possible, when figuring out college fit, be sure to try a meal or two at their cafeteria, stop to speak with current students outside of the tour guides, attend a class if possible and lookout for the engagement level by both faculty and students. A lot of time on campus can be spent in libraries, the fitness center, student lounges, and common areas. Be sure to visit these areas and stay attentive to your overall feel of the college campus.
Many students that attend college will tell you how important it was for them to step foot on campus and their gut told them immediately, “yes” or “no”. It’s one of the very first major decisions in any student’s life and it’s important that students are in the driver’s seat for their fit.
While Fit can be a top factor when deciding whether to attend a school, Finance is usually the more common factor influencing a family and student’s final college choice. Usually, financing college is treated like a third rail topic in homes. Many American families wait until junior or senior year to start figuring out the difficult challenge of paying for school. By April of 12th grade, most students should have completed their FAFSA applications, CSS profiles, as well as any Tuition Assistance Program applications available to them. The typical college graduate in the United States earns their 4 year college degree with a hefty student loan debt amount averaging at $32,700. Unfortunately, many unsuspecting college students have turned to private loans to pay for college.
Whether that interest started during college or post graduation, the typical early career professional can under-match for their first jobs out of college, just to pay back their student loans. While a $55,000 starting salary may feel like a large amount to any youngster from an immigrant or low income family, lifestyle choices and cumulative interest adds up. Pretty soon, the total student loan debt has already been increasing at a faster rate than the graduate can pay off. Ideally, most U.S. high school graduates should seek to attend college at an institution that can allow them to graduate with less than $12,000 in total student loan debt.
According to Andrew Yang’s book, Smart People Should Build Things, too many of our college graduates are seeking careers in investment banking, management consulting, law school, medical school, or graduate Master’s PhD programs out of a “vague desire for additional status and progress rather than from a genuine passion or fit.”
When you consider the fact that many college graduates end up obtaining jobs in the large cities where they attend college thanks to summer internships, where you go to college may have implications far greater into your future than you realize.
Does this mean that every high school senior should have their majors, summer internships, and future employment all figured out this month? Of course not. However, knowing the connections between where you go to school and who the most frequent employers out of college should factor into your college choice.
Industry-wise, large cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago will be home to many employers in finance, management, healthcare and law. For those wanting to go into public service or policy, attending college in Washington DC or any state capital can help with exposure to summer experiences in the federal or state government. For those looking at job growth cities 5 – 10 years from now, an increasing number of students are applying to college in areas like Atlanta or Texas, and focusing on schools with strong Co-Op/Internship programs.
Overall, besides Fit, Finance, and Future Employment, Fun should be an important part of a student’s decision making process. College will be a time for students to deal with a lot of unstructured time. Admissions committees spent the last 4 months asking themselves “How will this student spend their time on campus if accepted?”
College students can tell you that a great experience in college is what you make of it. Ultimately, whether you feel more comfortable in a big city environment, a small college town, or a mid-sized suburb, how students spend their time between classes and during free time will be important. Many students in large cities relish the opportunity to explore the local museums, parks, and well known attractions during their time away from campus. Students in smaller college towns can often use that time away from the noise of the big city to better understand who they are as an individual and solidify their values in late adolescence.
Ultimately, where one goes to college and how one spends their time can help during this important step in life. In Jeffrey Salingo’s top seller, There Is Life After College, he describes one’s twenties as a time when they can either become a sprinter, drifter, or straggler in their transition into adulthood.
No matter what pathways may come ahead, how one makes the choice as to where to attend college should be student led, family supported, and in conjunction with what’s expected for the next four years. Good luck finding your fit. Always remember to negotiate the best financial aid package, consider future employment, have fun, and enjoy your newfound freedom.