Road to College: What to Consider When Making a College Decision

Consider key variables when choosing a college.

Choosing a college is the culmination of many years of hard work on the part of the student and their families. It’s an achievement symbolizing both one’s identity as a student and future aspirations. During the pandemic, this has been remarkably different and more difficult. Applicants have been limited in which schools they are able to visit, and even when in-person visits could take place, gaining a sense of the unique vibe, pulse, and energy of a particular college can be challenging from just a 15-minute tour. During this unique time, there remain a number of essential points one may not consider that are vital to this process.

Identify key variables. Narrow down a set of 8-10 variables deemed most important in selecting a best-fitting school. This can help students be intentional and reflective in their decision, solidifying the key attributes they are seeking in their college experience. Apply this list to each school as a fitness estimator, seeking to define, rate, and organize each school by its degree of fit.

Focus first on deposit, then waitlists. Within this year’s admissions landscape, students may have been bombarded with more waitlist notifications than expected. This can complicate the decision process as there is a level of emotional complexity behind committing to an institution and not necessarily feeling “all in” with other potential offers. Students should view their college choice for deposit as a separate, primary decision, and aim to make this process as quantitative as possible. Then, if still considering schools at which a student was waitlisted, view this as a secondary decision.

Look to the future. The way high school seniors understand and anticipate their experience at a particular college may not always hold true as they progress toward their final years as a student at that institution. It is important students consider how a particular college may bolster or limit future opportunities. For example, one school may offer more internship opportunities than others.

Prioritize balance. In making this decision, students may feel bombarded with the recommendations of others, often creating more confusion than clarity. It’s important to take in and value such input, particularly from parents or others. However, aim for balance. Look to select a school in which a student’s potential values of campus climate or social life, for example, can accompany and be supported by a parent’s likely dissimilar priorities. In assessing other opinions, try not to give too much weight to singular anecdotes unless they can be supported by your own research.

Take a breath. With time crunches and deposit deadlines, these decisions can often feel rushed, potentially impacting their mental and emotional well being. Parents should take note of signs of stress and anxiety, and encourage their student to take time to rest, regroup, and gradually chip away at the process.

This year, we have seen longstanding admissions trends broken, making the college decision process more complex than ever. Using an informed, methodological approach that combines a collection of quantitative and qualitative information, students and families can more intentionally make this decision while remembering that one’s college choice is just one of many decisions your student will make along their life journey.

Tony Di Giacomo an educator and founder of Novella Prep. He has 20 years of university experience in admissions, development, teaching, and research. Contact him at

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About the Author: Tony Di Giacomo, Ph.D.