Belinda Gonzalez-Leon, Ed. D., MBA
Ph: (305) 494-9389
DORAL, FL – High school seniors are starting to receive acceptance letters from colleges and now they must make the decision of which offer to accept. After working so hard for this special moment, some students may find the decision overwhelming. However, if you have done your research and applied to the schools right for you – then the decision should not be that difficult.
The most important factor in choosing a school? Your gut feeling. Yes, your gut. You instinct, the little voice in your head, the way your heart or maybe stomach feel. When you walked onto the college campus, did you feel happy? Energized? Excited? Did you feel welcome? Comfortable? You are going to spend four very important years of your life at a place where you will not only study but also gain personal life experiences that will define you as an adult. If you choose a school that doesn’t make you happy, you will be miserable. Perhaps not even graduate.
This decision making factor assumes that you have visited the colleges you applied to. If you didn’t, make no decision until you do visit. The college visit is vital. Walk around the buildings, the dorms, the common areas, the cafeteria, the library. Talk to students. What is life about at this campus? I had a future medical student who was accepted at the prestigious John Hopkins University having never visited. When she finally did tour the school – she hated it. She ended up attending Stanford University because it was the right fit for her. Remember, Harvard isn’t for everybody!
Many parents will argue that the cost of college is a key determinant choosing a school. Yes, but tuition costs should not be only reason nor the top reason for picking a college. Always start with the academics of the school before looking at the costs. Does the college teach what you want to study? Is it a good program? If it feels good and it’s a strong academic program, then you need to sit down and analyze your financial aid award letter. Ask for it as soon as you get the acceptance letter. Some colleges post it online before mailing a printout to you. Compare what the colleges are offering you in financial aid.
The financial award letter will not show your 529 college plan nor your Florida Prepaid account, but it should show your Bright Futures Scholarship. Do you have any other outside scholarships? Those will not show. Many colleges include student loans and employment in your financial aid package and that is NOT free money. If you are not satisfied with your financial aid offer, call your financial aid officer and ask if they have more aid available. Express how much you would really want to attend their school! If your 2ndor 3rdchoice school is offering you more money, state that in the conversation.
Finally, do you have any personal situations that could affect your college life? Do you need to be close to home because of the family? Not ready to live on your own? Perhaps you absolutely can’t attend a cold weather school! Think about how your current situation will change in the upcoming year and can you live with that situation at the college you decide to attend. Maybe you can defer for a semester or a year before you start at that school.
If you did not get into the school(s) of your choice, don’t despair. Perhaps you made mistakes in the application process. It is perfectly acceptable to take your time and try again. Enroll in one of the local colleges and start with some basic courses. Miami Dade College and Florida International University are affordable; offer a variety of courses, and allow for easy transfer to other colleges. Use the time to study and visit other colleges while completing the application process again. It is better to take your time in applying than make a mistake and invest four years of your life at a school you don’t like or that will cost you cost precious tuition dollars.