Multiple choice

college campus with bicycle rack

You’ve been accepted to several universities. How do you decide which one to pick?

By Danielle Castonzo

When I was a senior in high school, I spent many nights researching programs and making pro/con lists about the universities where I’d been accepted. Despite my hours of research, it wasn’t until I stepped on campus that I knew where I wanted to spend the next four years.

Choosing the right university can seem like a daunting task, and everyone will have an opinion to offer, but this is your decision. Here are some factors to consider when deciding among school offers:

The academics. Of course, it’s important to choose a school that offers your program of interest. But if there’s any chance you´ll switch majors, make sure to pick a university that also provides a variety of other programs. You’ll want to have options if you decide nuclear physics isn’t actually your passion after your first calculus exam.

“Variety is important,” says Melanie Payne, director of New Student Orientation at Indiana University. “Once students begin their college career, many, many learn of other (majors) that are a better fit.”

Campus vibe. Ask yourself, “How do I want to spend my weekends? What kind of people do I want to meet?” I recommend reaching out to students at the schools you´re considering to ask them about the social environment and how they spend their free time.

“Fit is important,” Payne says. “A prestigious academic program won’t be as helpful if you are in a place you can’t thrive or, worse, are miserable. Look at culture, housing, values, out-of-class opportunities, career-planning support and other factors, too.”

A portrait of an Asian university student on campus

Location. Going to school in a big city is completely different from living in a small town that revolves around a university. Exploring the area where your school is located is a big part of college life, especially once you can get to class without using Google Maps for walking directions.

The price tag. For me, cost was one of the most important factors. I chose the school that offered me the biggest scholarship, because that gave me the financial freedom to accept internships in other cities, study abroad and go on hiking trips. Consider if your dream school is worth the cost of any sacrifices you’ll need to make.

Community. If you’re a runner, check out run clubs on campus or in the city. Or maybe you’re into improv comedy, poetry, heavy metal music or Quidditch (yes, there was a Quidditch team at my school). Whether you’re looking to continue a hobby or find a new one, make sure there’s a community you could see yourself joining.

Your network. Some people want the thrill of going to a school where they don’t know anyone, while others prefer an environment where they already have a network to build on. There are pros and cons to both. For instance, if you choose a school closer to your friends, you may be able to go home on the weekends or room with someone you already know. However, if you don’t know anybody, you have the opportunity to be more independent and start a whole new circle of friends.

Adult education class raising hands to ask questions.

Go with your gut. If possible, I encourage you to visit all the campuses of the schools you’re considering. Imagine how it would feel to study all night, order pizza with friends or spend a weekend there.

“The best fit will likely be somewhere you will feel comfortable, because comfort breeds confidence and confidence breeds engagement … (and) engagement increases success,” Payne says. “But make sure you find somewhere that will also challenge you: your world view, your intellect, your comfort zone, your beliefs. These things will help you know who you are, will open you to growth and will make your degree be so much more than a piece of paper.”


Additional Resources: 

The 25-question checklist for choosing a college

College students open up about choosing their dream school

How to choose a college that’s right for you

10 tips to help you make your final college choice

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