Making that tough final decision

Students must make a deposit at one school by May 1.

The biggest question I get at this time of year is “how do we decide?”Being faced with multiple good choices is often as challenging as it is tantalizing. Here are some thoughts that go beyond the pro/con charts that are always a good first step.

Revisit, if possible. Most colleges host “accepted student days” where they welcome back families and treat you very well. The shoe is very definitely on the other foot now and students will see an almost embarrassingly gushing display. The colleges aren’t likely to be pushy but they are undeniably eager to convert an accepted student into an enrolled student.

Peter Van Buskirk, author of “Winning the College Admission Game”, President of The Admission Game and former Dean of Admission at Franklin & Marshall said this about these visits – “admitted students need to recognize that they are being subjected to theatre – a carefully choreographed presentation by staff, faculty and tour guides designed to sell the experience.” He recommends budgeting time to go “backstage” and speak to coaches, faculty and staff where the student is likely to spend a lot of time.

Students need to determine if the life at the college is a good fit for them. Two of the best things to do are as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee with current students, or spending the night in a dormitory, if possible. Ask a few freshmen to be honest about their social and academic experiences and then find an upperclassman in your anticipated major and ask them about career services, internship opportunities, grad school acceptance rates, etc. You’ll learn a lot.

Parents should let their students process their visit independently, i.e., don’t offer opinions until requested or at least wait until you return home. It’s important for a student to be able to visualize themselves on the college campus. Is this a place where they are certain they will feel at home? Not all students will walk away with a clear-cut gut feel and that makes this part of the process even more challenging. You want them to love it or hate it; you want them to “know” they’re making the right choice for them.

Pete Edwards of Achieve Tutorials in Los Angeles had this suggestion, “Ask your son or daughter to make a decision. A real decision, picking one school or the other. Have him/her write it down, tell friends and family about the decision for five days, but DON”T actually accept at that school. See how it feels to live with that decision. If it feels good, go with it. If not, at the end of five days, do the same thing with the other school. I find that students who can really dedicate themselves to the process find that they are not so torn after all.”

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;