Updated: Apr 29, 2022
By Jacob Connell
For many high school students, the most difficult part of the entire college process comes well after the last application is submitted and even after the letters of rejection have been throw away. The challenge of deciding which college offers the best fit for continuing one’s academic career is a complex one that is unique to every student; however, I encourage you to talk with current college students about how they chose where to go to school. These conversations can be helpful for a couple of reasons. Firstly, your friend may have considered factors that hadn’t even crossed your mind, but now that you are aware of them, they are significant. Secondly, it will show that you can have a phenomenal college experience no matter which factors you weigh heavily.
To get the conversation started, I have asked some of my friends to reflect on their college decision experience by answering two questions:
What was the factor that in the end led you to decide to attend the college or gap year that you decided on?
Would you say that it was the right factor to have considered?
Here’s what they had to say:
Malik, DePaul University
“One of the major factors that led me to pursue a college career straight out of high school was the fact that I was eager to learn more about my birth city. I love the city of Chicago, and I could simply not wait to get an education and experience the city as soon as possible.
In retrospect, I believe that this was the right factor because it propelled me to overlook my fears and doubts of being a black male in college. Being so ecstatic and motivated to see my new city, I began college with a positive attitude that carried me through my Freshman year.”
Margaret, Earlham College
“Although it isn't very exciting, money/financial aid was the final factor in the end, as I knew it would be at the beginning of my college search process. I chose the school that gave me the most aid, which honestly made the decision process easy for me. If no school gave me enough money, I would probably have had to do a year or two of work before going to school, so I feel very lucky.
I absolutely think it was the right factor to consider and feel very fortunate because going to college for money has not hindered my experience at Earlham at all. The school that was most affordable is one I have found a lot of love for and am very happy at. Also, the opportunity to leave school with little to no debt is something I know I value and future me will value even more.”
Andrew, Case Western Reserve University
“The biggest factor that made me choose Case Western Reserve was Case’s extremely small class sizes, especially for my major. I have yet to be in a class of over 100 people, and the vast majority of my classes are 17 people and under. I’ve found it really helpful in getting to know the professors and the personal experiences they’ve had in their fields.
Looking back on it, while I still think that class size is important, I would have been more open to larger schools, especially those that have smaller more specialized programs or scholarships within them. In bigger schools I feel as if there would be more breadth of programs and courses offered. So, looking back, the most important factors for me are courses offered and experience of professors.”
Logan, George Washington University
“I have to say that opportunity played the biggest role in my decision. When making my decision it was between a college that was about a 5 hour drive north of San Diego, where I grew up, and George Washington University in Washington, D.C. As an international business major with a minor in international affairs, I decided that the place that would provide me with the most opportunity, given my major and minor, was the one located in the capital of the United States.
I do not believe I know yet if it was the right thing to weigh most heavily. Opportunity only means something if you capitalize on it, and as a first-year college student trying to complete my ‘general education’ courses, I have yet to maximize that opportunity. However, I can say that I am extremely hopeful for what the future holds and the experiences that The George Washington University has to offer.”
Lily, gap year en route to Colorado College
“While there were many factors that helped make my decision to take a gap year, I credit my year off to my own curiosity and free spirit. It was very difficult to be my own person, and to explore myself fully when conforming to the American education system. I felt pressured to fit into all these boxes that a ‘student’ is supposed to fit into. I knew that taking a year off from the traditional learning style would help develop my passions more fully by being able to experience them outside of a classroom.
I would absolutely say that was the correct factor to consider. It is easy to lose yourself and lose an idea of what you want during the college process. I am young and curious and allowing myself the time and space to do... well, anything, was really important for me. If not now, then when?”
Ryan, University of Cincinnati
“In the end, the factor that led to my decision to attend the University of Cincinnati was the quality of the program in my desired field of study. I wanted to make sure I was going somewhere that offered resources and connections that could help me get real-world experience working in my field while still in school, because there is a great deal of learning that happens outside of the classroom.
I would say that it was the right factor to consider. At the end of the day, I think that once you can feel comfortable in your academic setting at school and get a good idea of where you can take the knowledge you gain and apply it in the real world, you can settle into your surroundings better. After all, that is a big part of what going to college is about.”
Trisha, The Ohio State University
“The factor that I think was the most important when it came to picking a college was the financial aspect. I decided on my college after I received my full ride, and that was the defining factor.
I think this is really important to consider especially because I think that the location of undergrad doesn't really matter in the long run. However, I do wish that money wasn't really an issue and that I could have prioritized where I felt most comfortable over the financial factors.”
David, The Ohio State University
“At the end of the day it came down to school pride, affordability, and long-term success the programs at each school offered me. I decided school pride was the most important because I went to many schools where there wasn't a student around wearing something that represented their school. This was not the case at OSU, where every student is proud and on any given day, I see countless signs of this pride displayed on clothes, backpacks, and anything else you can put a logo on.
I knew that no matter where I went, I was going to get a well-rounded and reputable degree at the end of the four years. I asked myself where I was going to be happiest, and OSU blew every other school out of the water. I have met people from around the corner to the largest cities in China, Africa, and Australia at this university, and we all share one thing in common: we love our school. It is so much easier to perform in school when you're happy, and I think school pride was the best factor I used when deciding to attend school here.”
Eitan, gap year en route to George Washington University
“From the earlier part of high school, my parents encouraged me to take a gap year, so there was always a high probability that I would take a gap year. My mother told me about AmeriCorps NCCC, and I immediately liked the idea. I was not overly enthusiastic about it, but as a gap year opportunity it seemed promising. As a corps member I would get a small living stipend and an education award of nearly $6,000 for completing my term. This was definitely important, as many gap year programs are costly. Another important factor was that I’d be able to help people and serve communities. I had always wanted to do more of that but had never taken much initiative. I also anticipated that I would be able to learn a great deal about the country, acquire a variety of skills, and meet many new people. If I had to boil my choice down to a single factor, it would be that knowing that the time I would spend during my gap year would have purpose—for me and for those whose lives I affected. I would definitively accomplish something.
It absolutely was. The nine months I spent as a corps member were not perfect by any means, but I accomplished a great deal, and I helped a lot of people. It was time well spent, and it was a valuable experience to have before going to college.”
Clearly, there is not a single factor that rules everyone’s decision. Every college has its strengths and weaknesses and at the end of the day, where you go is up to you and what you value. No matter how you end up making the decision, keep in mind that your time in college is defined more by the organizations you join, how hard you study, and the people you meet than the school itself.
Jacob Connell is a freshman at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University.