Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders 4 Things You Might Not Think About When Picking a College

4 Things You Might Not Think About When Picking a College

Image courtesy of Bethel Seminary

Traditionally, May 1 is “Decision Day” for the millions of American high schoolers who plan to start college that fall. But if a student hasn’t yet made up his or her mind where to go, don’t worry! More and more are waiting until later in the spring—or even early summer—to decide, and that’ll be even more true this year because of the federal government’s struggles with the FAFSA financial aid system.

So if you know a high school student who’s still trying to make what feels like a huge decision and want to offer your help, let me suggest four pieces of advice:

1. Get the best financial aid offer possible, but focus on value. 

When college costs as much as it does, I can’t blame students and families for doing whatever they can to minimize what they spend and borrow. Fortunately, private colleges with a high “sticker price” often offer substantial financial aid packages. Such schools depend on enrollment to make their budgets balance, so families should do what they can to maximize the aid they receive. (If a student hasn’t already received a financial aid offer, see if the college has a “net price calculator” that can give a helpful estimate.)

So get the best financial aid possible, but don’t let cost overshadow value. Students shouldn’t choose an option so expensive that they’ll have to work too much to succeed in their studies. Students shouldn’t go to community college to save money if they know that their faith would struggle without the close community and spiritual mentoring available from a Christian college.

Students should choose the most affordable school that will help them to love God more fully and more clearly hear his call on their lives.

2. Choose a good fit, but leave room for growth. 

Admissions counselors often tell me that, next to cost, nothing drives college decisions as much as “fit.” It’s a hard word to define, but I think fit captures how choosing a college is often about feel more than facts.

Just like most of us need to try on clothes, not just go by measurements, your student has probably spent a year or two “trying on” colleges, rather than just trusting data he or she read in brochures and on websites. He or she got a feel for different schools via social media, asked what people he or she trust have heard about them, and hopefully visited a few campuses to see for himself or herself what their people, places, and programs are like.

By now, your student has probably got a sense for which college fits best. He or she shouldn’t ignore that instinct…but they should leave room for growth.

College years are a time of profound personal change, as students come to see themselves and their future, their world, and their God more clearly. So they need to expect that what seems to fit them this month might not feel the same in a year or two. They should choose a school that fits them well right now, but also encourages its students to explore new ideas, new perspectives, new relationships, and new opportunities.

3. Take time to pray.

It’s totally natural to feel at some point like making a good college choice is impossible. What students are trying to figure out is the future, and that’s not something humans can ever know perfectly.

So encourage your student to cover her decision in prayer. Suggest that he or she pray as Jesus taught us to pray: that God’s will be done, in this decision as in the rest of her life on Earth; that God give him or her the “daily bread” of whatever is needed to pay for college and to make the most of that experience; that he or she not be led into temptation—either in how he or she makes this choice or how he or she spends her time at the college he or she chooses.