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  • There are many factors to consider when choosing a college after you’ve been accepted.
  • Evaluating a school’s value can feel overwhelming especially when comparing factors like academics, reputation, alumni networks, and more.
  • My College Plan can help you compare different schools, majors, and careers, and shows you how they can affect your potential salary and student loan debt.

Congratulations! After all your hard work and time spent applying to colleges and waiting to hear back, you finally have your acceptance and award letters in hand. Now you have to make a big decision—picking the college you’ll attend. Typically, you have until May 1, Decision Day, to decide.

Picking a college is not an easy task. It can be hard to know for sure which school is right for you, especially if you’re faced with multiple options. So, how do you choose a college? Here are key factors to consider when making your final decision.

1. Figure out your real cost

Graduating with the least amount of debt possible is a sensible goal. Use your award letters to compare what each school will actually cost you by looking at the net price listed. The net price is the school’s cost of attendance minus any grants and scholarships that have been awarded to you. It helps you determine how much you’ll be left to cover at each school and which school is the best financial fit for you. You can also use an award letter comparison tool to calculate what each school will cost you.

If you are considering going to a college far away from home—especially somewhere you’ll need to fly—your costs may be higher than the transportation cost listed in your award letter. Identify all the holidays and breaks that you will be traveling and estimate the roundtrip expenses for a more precise estimate of your real costs.

2. Determine the overall value

College is more than just a price tag—it’s an investment in your future. The final price tag is only one part of the comparison. Once you know what each college will cost you, you’ll want to understand the return of investment you can expect before making a decision. When thinking about how to pick a college, look for:

  • Strong academics. Even if two schools have similar overall rankings, one may be stronger in the department or field in which you hope to study. Compare the structure of your desired major at the different schools, as well as the professors who will be teaching you, to determine which school delivers the better program for your degree.
  • Internship and co-op support. Look into each school’s career center and their track record for helping students successfully secure internships and co-ops in their fields. Does one school have a stronger career office or network in your desired field? Do you have access to internships as early as your freshman year?
  • Updated facilities. Facilities can have an impact on your college education. You will want to make sure that the technology, research facilities, and labs applicable to your degree aren’t outdated. And if you are pursuing a research-heavy major, you will want to check out the libraries. Other spaces where students gather, such as student unions and dorms, will impact your social life and the feeling of community you experience.
  • High rate of post-graduation employment. While job-seeking seems ages away, it comes up faster than you would expect. Like internships and co-ops, look for a school that has a strong career center and can connect you to a variety of companies in your field. Also, look at employment statistics and average salaries of graduates—especially in your degree program—and compare them from school to school.
  • Alumni connections. Look at each school's alumni network and how active they are in helping current students and recent graduates get internships and jobs.
  • Reputation. Certain schools' reputations may open doors for you in the future and that may matter more in some professional fields than others. Determine whether or not attending a prestigious or elite school will help you break into your chosen field.

3. Visit the schools you’ve been accepted to

Now that you’ve been accepted, visit or revisit each campus to get a feel for what life might look like at the school. Spend some time talking to current students and absorb the general campus culture. Most schools host open houses for admitted students. This is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the schools’ programs, meet professors, and possibly attend the club fair.

4. Focus on the overall college experience

Going to college isn't all about academics and career prep. It’s also about having fun and being part of a community that enhances your overall college experience. When choosing a college, be cautious about placing a sole focus on a school because your best friends are attending, they have a winning sports team, or a major social scene. Ultimately, a positive college experience is about making friends and meeting new people, seeking new experiences and opportunities, and taking classes from professors who inspire and challenge you.

Making the choice

When deciding where to go to college, there is no “right” choice. There is only the right choice for you. Gathering all the necessary information and truly understanding the costs and benefits of each school is the first step in making your college decision. Tools like My College Plan can help you fully understand your options and the possible returns they could help you get on your investment in your education.

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