When it comes to choosing a college, it’s easy to get emotional. After all, college encompasses the most magical four years of your life. (OK, maybe five or six years nowadays.) It’s where you’ll kick start your career, discover who you are, meet your lifelong best friends, and become eternally inspired.
(cue record scratch)
Let’s take a step back. That’s a lot of pressure—and a lot of emotion—carried into one decision. And while choosing a college is a big decision, it need not be approached differently from any other large purchase. (After all, emotionally driven purchases tend to lead to regret.) By being a rational, well-informed consumer, you can keep emotions in check, keep a level head, and select the school that’s the best fit for your goals and budget.
Here are five ways to take a rational approach to the “Where should I go to college?” decision.
1. Keep Price Top of Mind
When comparing schools, know what you’re paying for, covering tuition, housing, meal plan, textbooks, and health insurance to start. Know the published rates per school, then factor in any potential scholarships, grants, or discounts available to you. Beyond the standard college costs, factor in ancillary fees, such as extracurriculars (e.g., gear for intramural sports), car insurance and parking (if you’ll be bringing your car to campus), and fraternity or sorority fees (if you plan to pledge). You can use any budgeting tool you prefer: a spreadsheet, an app, an old-fashioned notebook. Once you’re able to take a whole-picture price into account, you’ll get an informed sense of which school best aligns with your college budget.
2. Research Your Intended Major
If you’re planning on majoring in business, take a look at the respective business degree programs across the colleges that interest you. How is the business program at college X ranked on a national and regional scale? What’s the student-to-instructor ratio at each school’s business courses? How many business students graduate within four years? What are their job placement rates? Are there good professional networks for alumni from the program? Getting a good sense of the value of your intended major can demonstrate how the programs may compare when it comes to quality.
3. Speak to Alumni
Alumni are often willing to share their (unfiltered) college experiences, including real talk about what they paid to attend, any financial aid they received, and career support. If you’re willing to do a little outreach, go beyond the university-recommended contacts and use social media to connect with other alums. You’ll get a broader sense of the on-campus experience and post-school life. Does the feedback align with your expectations? Did you find other students’ experiences encouraging—or were there any red flags?
4. Get to Know Your Financial Aid Contacts
When it comes to financial aid, the more investigative you are, the better. Get to know the financial aid teams at your top-choice schools, and find out the many types of financial aid available. If you’re not sure, ask! As Edmit co-founder Nick Ducoff recently told the Boston Globe, when it comes to tuition, “I don’t think people realize they can haggle like they’re in a bazaar, but they can.” Nothing ventured, nothing gained: Ask about tuition price matching, scholarships, and discounts, and get the discussion started. (And don’t forget to factor these into the price-comparison methods we discussed in Step 1.)
5. Compare Apples to Apples
While it may be tricky to do as close a comparison as possible across colleges, do your best to evaluate objectively where complementary factors align. For example, by comparing tuition from college X to tuition from college Y, job placement at college X major to job placement at college Y major, you’ll understand what you’ll be getting in terms of price, value, and quality—and understand what you can afford.
Find out which college is your best financial fit by comparing college financial aid offers with Edmit!