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How Do I Choose the Colleges for My List?

Seniors are putting applications together. Juniors are thinking about which colleges they want to apply to. I bet all of you students and parents are wondering how do I choose? Which colleges would I be happy at for four years? So what should you be looking at when you make this big decision? I’m sharing with you the key questions to ask yourself when deciding on your list.

What do you want to do after you graduate?


Do you have a particular career or major in mind? Spend your time researching the best undergrad programs. See which schools your dream companies recruit from. Are there intern or co-op programs?


Bonus points: Email a VIP in the career or company you are interested in and ask for advice. Where did they go to school? Which schools have an excellent reputation in the field? Stumped on how to even approach a VIP? Email me to get a word for word script to use.


What are the economics of your choice?


I specifically don’t want you to think about what your “budget” is or how much the college costs. You need to look at the whole picture. What sort of financial aid and scholarship packages do the schools offer? What are your parents able to contribute? What is your potential starting salary? What are your potential lifetime earnings? WRITE IT ALL DOWN.


For example, if your dream job is teaching middle school, your salary will likely be in the $30,000-$60,000 range during your lifetime. So you need to consider if spending $200,000 on your education will be too big of a burden. How long will it take you to pay off your loans? What will you spend on interest? You don’t want to just assume everything will take care of itself. Look at the numbers.


On the other hand, if your dream job is a petroleum engineer for a big oil company, I would consider spending more money on a school with a strong program that has relationships with all the big companies over a school that’s cheaper but doesn’t have any oil companies going to its career fairs.


Location can be a big factor here. It’s definitely easier to get a job in the city or area where you go to school. If you know you want to work in a particular city, check out the schools there. You’ll be able to build your network while in school making the job search process a breeze.


This task requires you to research and write everything down, even crunch some numbers. But it’s worth it if you won’t graduate with tons of debt and no clue how you’re going to pay it off.


Will I like spending the next four years there?


Are you big city or small town? Do you need to be close to family or want to break out on your own? Is Greek life important? How did you feel when you visited the school?


Do you have any friends or family who went to a school and loved it. If they have similar likes and dislikes to you, their opinion is very valuable. Ask them why exactly they like the school. Are their reasons important to you?


I had a mother ask me this very question. Her daughter visited a school and wasn’t crazy about it. This year her friend is going there and loves it, which is making her reconsider the school. Typically we’re friends with people who are similar to us and have similar likes and dislikes. I think your friend’s experience is actually more pertinent than a visit, especially if it was a visit you took during the summer. It’s hard to get a feel for a school by going on a campus tour when most of the students are gone. Ask your friend why she loves it. Even better, if you can, visit your friend at school. You might even be able to catch a class or two with her.


Action Steps:

  1. Start your list today!
  2. Research schools based on majors/careers.
  3. Use this wizard to figure out how much student loan debt is reasonable for you. Use www.payscale.com to get median salaries for different careers.
  4. Talk to people! Your friends, family, and mentors can all help you to decide on your final list. Just remember to ask questions to find out why they like the schools they like.
  5. Comment or email me with any questions.

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