The College Search: What If I Have Trouble Deciding?

Hear tips on picking a college from Liz Eshleman, director of College Planning and Placement at Devon Preparatory School.

May 12, 2010 7:31:06 AM PDT
This is not uncommon, especially in cases where a student has applied to many schools and visited multiple campuses. In fact, there are plenty of kids who wait until the final week, or even the final day before the decision deadline before they finally pull the trigger.

If your child is having difficulty figuring this out, I would strongly encourage you to make a list of all reservations your student has with each school that's still in the running. Consider everything. In my son's case, negatives included the size of the campus, the prevalence of Greek life, the idiosyncrasies of his specific major (some schools had a better array of specialized courses than others), the distance from home, whether there was enough excitement on campus, as well as the various schools' reputations (is school "A" snobby, as some say? Is the red tape at school "B" as bad as you've heard? Is the food at school "C" as bad you've read online?).


Next, begin email strings with the admissions officers at the competing schools, honestly stating the decision difficulties, expressing what a given school has going for it, but then listing the negatives. In my son's case, there were three schools still in play in the final week. I asked the admissions officers (all of whom we had met during our visits), if there was anything they could say to tilt the scales, especially when it came to addressing the lingering doubts that existed with their specific campuses. The responses I got were mostly frank and helpful. But the exchange was also revealing in that it gave us a sense of the kind of treatment our son was liable to receive once on campus.

One very large college got back to us, but it took a while, and the response was limited. There's no one to blame for this. At a large school, there are a lot more kids and parents, and plenty more questions to handle. But the delay and quality of response did offer, perhaps, a subtle glimpse into what it might be like dealing with a large, busy administration. Another smaller school was engaging, and even discussed the pros and cons of their campus candidly. We appreciated this. But the third school not only responded quickly and thoroughly, the admissions officer promised to copy our concerns to others within my son's prospective major to see if he could flesh-out the university's response. Before we knew it, the Dean of the specific school accepting my son was on our computer, addressing our concerns point-by-point.

Of the three schools, which do you suppose left my son with the best, last impression? Furthermore, which do you think made us the most comfortable as parents? There were many reasons why my son chose this third school in the end, including the fact that they were offering more aid than one of the others. But the fact that the administration and educational staff seemed so interested in us was no small part of it, and we would not have necessarily gotten so good of a feeling had we not been aggressive in reaching out to the various schools with these follow-up concerns and questions.

In the end, my son went to school "C" and has not regretted it. The service has been great, and the school has lived up to the sales pitch, at least for freshman year. Being aggressive and unafraid to seek additional information and establish additional contact with the finalists can go a long way toward helping break the decision log-jam and help your student make an informed choice.

And after all, an informed choice is usually the best choice.

MORE COLLEGE SEARCH ARTICLES: High School Course/Activities, ACT/SAT, How Many Colleges Should I Put On My List?, Compiling A List, Unsolicited Brochures, Campus Visits, Applying For Admission, Types of Applications, When Must I Decide?, 529 Accounts, Myths About The Cost, Upromise, The Best Way To Pay, College Troubles, College Depression, NCAA Athletics, Athletic Scholarships, The College Search Preface Read more Parenting Perspective blogs by visiting the Parenting Channel on