The College Decision

“What college are you going to?”

Ah, the question posed to all high school seniors. Some respond, “I’m not going to college.” Others say, “Oh, somewhere local” or “I don’t know.” And then there’s me. “Well, I really want to go to this college in Minnesota, but I don’t know if they’ll accept me and it’s really expensive so I might not be able to go there after all.”

Finalizing my college decision was probably the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. Really, the whole college process is extremely stressful and full of doubt.

But you have to start somewhere. When I started looking at colleges, all I did was write down the name of every college that taught more than three foreign languages and wasn’t in the South (I hate hot weather). But how did I narrow that huge list down to “the one”?

Keep an Open Mind

Yes, yes, hackneyed phrase, I know. But it is good advice. When I first started to narrow down my college list, I was picky about things that now don’t matter to me. For example, I was adamant (hah) that I would live off campus throughout college. I’m not a people person so sharing a room and, further, a bathroom with other people sounded terrible. Then someone said, “Uh, Julie, who’s going to rent an apartment to a minor when her parents live out of state?” Step 1 on the cycle of doubt.

Eventually, I visited a residential college and thought, “Oh, this doesn’t seem too bad, and it might be easier to make friends this way.” And, lo and behold, the college I will be attending is a residential college (and in my home state too, even though I was sure that I would go out of state). That isn’t to say that I won’t switch to living in an apartment owned by the college later on, but it’s amazing how what you thought was a deal-breaker once may not actually be one.

Visit Different Kinds of Colleges

In the summer of 2016, I went with my parents to visit three colleges; one was a small residential college and the other two were big state universities. I thought that going to a public university would be a good idea because they are far cheaper than many private colleges. Well, long story short, I hated them. As someone who has never gone to a school with more than 100 students (yes, you read that right), they seemed like huge disconnected cities instead of communities.

Later that summer, my mom and I went to visit two small, private residential colleges. I found that while they were more expensive than the state universities, they were worth far more to me than the state universities. I felt far more at home at any of the private colleges than I did at either of the state universities.

You may hate knowing everyone on campus, or you may love the feel of a connected community. But you won’t know for sure until you visit different types of colleges.

Consider the Cost

Money isn’t very important to me. Okay, so I may be a bit of a penny-pincher, but my life doesn’t revolve around money. That being said, financing your college education is extremely important.

Make sure you talk to your parents about how much money they have saved for you for college and if they can afford to pay anything more than that. Also, apply for scholarships from outside sources (unigo and cappex are popular sites). It’s a great idea to work summers and/or during the school year if you can. I regret not trying to find a job during the summer while I was in high school. That extra money would have helped a lot.

Most importantly, come up with an intelligent plan for paying for your college education. Plan out how much your parents can pay and approximately how much you will be able to pay. Subtract that from how much the college wants you to pay every year. If you follow your plan, how much will you have to take out in loans? Is being $5,000, $15,000, $35,000 in debt by the time you graduate worth it? It wasn’t for me. I went with my second favorite college instead of my favorite because it was so much cheaper. Honestly, I am glad that I picked the college I did because I can look forward to starting college without as much anxiety as I would have if I went with my first choice.

Also, keep these things in mind:

  • You should never have to pay to enter a scholarship contest.
  • If you take out student loans, they never go away unless you pay them off.
  • When coming up with a plan to pay for college, make allowances for inflation.
  • Travel expenses may make a closer college the better choice.
  • If you win outside scholarships, your college may take away some of your financial aid. For example, if Unnamed College awarded you $10,000 in scholarships, $5,000 in grants, and $5,000 in loans and you win $1,000 from Coca Cola, Unnamed College may subtract that from the $5,000 of loans that it already awarded you. If you win more, Unnamed College will continue to take away from your loans, then your grants, and finally your scholarships. Not all colleges do this. Check their website or call their financial aid office to find out if they do.

Confidence Isn’t Instant

Choosing a college is a big cycle of doubt. Should I really pick this college because it has a really good program in ____? What if I change my major? Did I apply to the right colleges? Will I even be accepted into the colleges I applied to? Did I choose to go to the right college? Maybe I should just move to Tunisia and become a goatherder.

I foolishly thought that as soon as I finished applying to colleges, my stress and doubt would just melt away. When this didn’t happen, I thought, Oh, it’ll happen once I’ve heard from all the colleges. Still no. Oh, so it’s once I’m enrolled at a college. Not immediately. I paid the enrollment deposit to my college and, in the midst of declining the other colleges that accepted me, thought, I picked the wrong college, didn’t I? 

I am now confident in my college choice. I’m not going back and forth between colleges or regretting my decision not to go to my top college. In fact, I’m starting to get excited for the fall. The more I think about the college I picked, the more I like it. I think that the community will be a good fit, and I think it will challenge me academically and spiritually. And I don’t even mind that it’s in my home state.

Deciding which college I wanted to go to was difficult, stressful, and seemed downright impossible at times. But it was a rewarding experience. I think that I was able to see God’s hand in my decision, which is something I usually struggle to do. And I think that taking on this responsibility made me readier to take on other big responsibilities once I get to college.

If you’re trying to figure out which college is best for you, really think about it. Does that aspect of the college really matter to you? Is a big college really what you need? Which college will help you grow most? Is that college worth the debt? Also, remember that you may not automatically feel confident about your decision.

I don’t really know if my college years will be the best years of my life or if they’re the best years of anyone’s life. Regardless, the college you pick is important and essential in enabling you to make the most of your college years.