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Let’s face itcollege is a big expense. And with any big expense, you want to make sure you’re making the right choice. To help break down the overwhelming task of choosing a college, we spoke with Lindsay Tulloss, Senior Manager of Client Success and Operations at Peterson’s with 10+ years of admissions experience working with both private and public colleges. 

What are some considerations for choosing a college amid COVID?

Make a list of what is important to you and then start your college search. Think about the following and rank your answers in order of importance. 

  • Would I feel safe? Would my family feel safe?
  • What precautions is the college taking?
  • What about the local public safety precautions?
  • Are they teaching all online or hybrid? 
  • How are the online classes? Still really interesting or death by PowerPoint?
  • Can I take a gap year due to COVID?
  • What if the college sends everyone home? Do I get prorated tuition or prorated housing fees?
  • Is this college worth it if I can’t have live classes? Is it worth it if I can’t be on campus?
  • Can I have a single dorm room?
  • Is there a health center on campus?

Identifying what you are looking for in a college and what is most important to you will help narrow your college search. You can use Peterson’s college search to find the perfect school for you! 

What are some key ways to evaluate a college of interest?

Do your research! Look at the school’s website, attend either in person (if possible) or virtual events, reach out to your admissions counselor and express your interest in attending. By interacting with the school, you are able to learn more, pick up helpful admissions tips, and show your interest in the school. Some schools look at demonstrated interest in their admissions process, so each interaction you have with a school will be beneficial in the admissions process.

What are some tools students can use to identify potential college choices?

Make sure you are using the resources available to help create your college list. Your high school’s guidance counselor or college counselor is well equipped to help you navigate through the college admissions process. Peterson’s college search can help you find and filter through additional universities to investigate. 

Once you have created a well rounded college list, take the time to research more about the colleges and universities. The college’s website is a great place to learn more about not only the academics, but also the social aspects of the college. College is not only a place you will be advancing your education, but also where you will most likely be living and transitioning to adulthood. Reach out to your admissions counselor if you have any questions, or if something is not clear on the website. 

If possible, tour the campus to get a better sense of the campus community. You wouldn’t buy a house without touring the house first, and it is the same with a university. Even if you cannot visit the college in person, there are a number of ways to get a sense of the community virtually. Check out the schools’ virtual tours, open houses, and online events. Reach out to your admissions counselors if you would like to get in touch with a current student to learn more about their student experience. 

How many colleges should you apply for?

According to a 2002 Pew Research study, students submitted an average of four enrollment applications. By 2017, the average increased to 6.8 applications per enrolled student. Most students apply to between four to eight schools. 

As you are creating your college list, include schools that fall into each of the following categories: reach, target, and safety. A reach school is a college where your academic credentials fall in the lower end of the school’s published average admissions range. Reach schools might be long shots, but they should still be within the realm of possibility. A target school is one where your academic credentials fall within the school’s average range for their published admission averages. A safety school is one where your academic credentials exceed the school’s range for the average first-year student. While there are no guarantees, a safety school is a school that you should feel confident about being accepted.

Add two of each type of school to your college list. Make sure you would be happy to enroll in any of the schools that you are applying to, not just the reach schools. 

What should you do if the college you want to attend is too expensive?

Schools have many different ways they can help reduce the sticker price of the college to make it more affordable for students. These financial aid packages include grants, scholarships, or loans (subsidized or unsubsidized). In order to qualify for these financial aid options, you need to complete the FAFSA form and sometimes the CSS Profile. If you have questions about the financial aid process, reach out to the school’s Financial Aid office. It is very important that you complete your financial aid application (FAFSA and the CSS profile) by the deadline in order to be eligible for your full financial aid package. It can be very difficult to receive funding if you applied for financial aid after the deadline. 

It is also important not to discount a school based on its tuition cost. All schools are required to publish a net price calculator to help determine your overall cost based on a few questions. You can also speak to a financial aid advisor to give you a better idea of what your cost might be. 

Some schools are need-aware meaning that the student’s financial need will be taken into consideration during the admissions process. This is typically reviewed at the end of the admissions process to ensure that the institution can fully fund the incoming class. It is very important that families are submitting both the FAFSA and CSS profile on time to ensure that their financial need will be met by the school. 

Make sure you do not forget to work with your high school counselor to learn more tips and tricks about the financial aid process. Your counselor can provide you with additional scholarship resources. There are usually a number of local scholarships that you can apply for as a high school student. 

Should you still consider applying to a college that has a low acceptance rate?

Do your research! If you are applying to a school with a lower acceptance rate or a reach school, make sure it is still attainable. Reach out to your high school counselor and/or your admissions counselor to learn more about the likelihood of admissions. Do your due diligence in applying early and putting your best foot forward on the application. This means completing all parts of the application even if something is optional such as an admissions interview or supplemental essays. Remember that some schools look at demonstrated interest in their admissions process, so each interaction you have with a school will be beneficial in the admissions process. 

One way to increase your chance of admission is to apply early decision if it is offered. Early decision is a binding agreement between you and a college in which you agree to attend should you be accepted. You can only apply to one college early decision. If you’re accepted, you have to withdraw all applications to other colleges. This is different from applying early action. Early action plans are non-binding, meaning students receive an early response to their application, but do not have to commit to the college until the national college decision day (May 1st). 

No matter where you decide to pursue your higher education, it’s important to do your research, make careful considerations, and use all available resources when making your college decision.

Related: Colleges and Universities: Choosing the Right Fit

Need help choosing a college that best fits your needs? Check out Peterson’s college search and grad search tools.