As we get close to May 1, National College Decision Day, deciding where to go to college can be a very stressful decision. Of my 3 girls, we only had to face the stress of making this choice with the oldest and we were completely unprepared. By mid-March of her Senior year, my daughter managed to narrow down to two final options, which I’ll call School A and School B.

It was looking like an easy choice to go with School A, based on the bottom-line out-of-pocket cost, until she had a conversation with her admission counselor at school B. I was amazed at the flexibility School B showed.

Given that the two schools were going to be fairly comparable in cost, my daughter went ahead with an admitted student visit at School B. She came back liking the two schools equally.  When asked whether she set herself a timeline for making the final decision, she said “No” with an attitude. I could tell by her mood that this was going to be a tough decision for her (and her parents)!

How to Choose Between Two Colleges 

Assuming that your student has been to overnight visits at both colleges and has had all the basic questions answered, the following areas may be things to look at to determine the final college choice.

  1. Academic Reputation – Does one school have a better academic reputation than the other? How do you determine this?  If you want to see ratings from actual students on academics and other areas, you can go to Niche. Another good tool is the Princeton Review website. They give schools an Academic Rating on a scale from 60-99 to judge how hard students work and how much they get back for their efforts. The information is gathered from student surveys and statistical information reported by college administrators.
  2. Total Cost – In my opinion, budget and cost have to be at or near the top of the list. If your student is leaning towards a higher-cost school, there needs to be something of value to make it worth spending more. Make sure you are evaluating the full cost picture including the following:
    1. Travel costs – is one school closer to home?
    2. Extra terms or study abroad programs that carry extra tuition
    3. Off-campus housing vs on-campus housing
    4. Renewable merit scholarships – are both schools offering merit aid that automatically renews?
    5. Need-Based awards – if the school is providing all or mostly need-based awards, keep in mind that your family’s financial picture will be reevaluated each year and the award will be recalculated.
  3. Programs Offered – In my daughter’s case, one school was ranked higher academically overall. The other school offered a terrific Honors College with specific requirements and opportunities to engage at a deeper level. It’s important to compare each school’s academic opportunities to find the best match for your student’s personal goals and interests.
  4. Student Body – This comes into play when one school is closer to home. Does the student want a campus filled mostly with students from his/her home state or does he/she want to meet students from other states and around the globe?
  5. Fit – This is very subjective for each student. Did they feel like one school was a better overall “fit” – a place to feel comfortable and belong?
  6. Size – Was the size of one school more appealing than the other or were they about the same? Would your student be more comfortable with smaller and more personal or larger with more opportunities?
  7. Location – Is there a difference in the type of location (rural, suburban, urban) or weather? If so, which school is better suited to your student’s comfort level?
  8. Activities – Is there a difference in activities offered that would make one school more appealing than the other? For example, with my daughter’s two options, one was Division 1 for athletics, the other was Division 3. She ran cross country in high school but was not a fast enough runner to be sought out for college teams. She needed to determine whether she could get on both schools’ cross-country teams or whether the D3 school would be her only option for competing.
  9. Housing Options – Is there a difference in the type of housing available to freshmen? How many years does each school require students to live on campus? I mentioned this above when evaluating the total cost. Living off campus can save a lot of money.
  10. Course Requirements & Options – Look at the general education requirements at both schools – are they the same? Does one school take a more well-rounded approach than the other? Find the course catalog online and look at the options. Does one school seem to offer better course topics or special content areas that the student finds interesting?
  11. Job, Research and/or Internship Opportunities – Is there a difference in on-campus or off-campus job opportunities while the student is at school? If your student wants to do research, does one school offer more opportunities than the other? Does one school offer a better internship program?
  12. Outcomes/Salaries – What about prospects for the first job after college? Look at the statistics for students finding jobs within the first 6 months after graduation. What is the school’s reported average salary for graduates with your student’s major? Ask about employers that recruit on campus. What does each school offer to help students prepare for the job search?

The decision between which school to attend was overwhelming and required lots of thought. Some don’t know what all to weigh when evaluating college options, but I wanted to give you some of the many things we considered and thought through when selecting a university for my eldest. 

In our case, my daughter took her decision right down to the wire, but when she announced it to us, we knew she made a well-thought-out final college choice. I wish you and your student the best of luck on making the decision about which college to attend. I also invite you to lighten the load and take advantage of MyCAP for comparing offers and get help making this decision if you need it. 

An Assistant to Help Choose Your College

MyCAP can help you make the final decision on where to attend college. It’s free to sign up and gives you details into your student’s top 2 or 3 schools. We’ll help you understand whether your student’s award letters are on target with our projections of what the schools should offer based on your Expected Family Contribution and your student’s GPA and ACT/SAT score. You can also compare the average salary for graduates in your student’s area of study to see if one school might offer a better return on investment.

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