College acceptances are in, and many students across the country are making a big life decision - choosing where to go among the institutions that accepted them. As the deadline for college acceptance looms, students are weighing their options and figuring out how to choose the college that is best for them.
Daniel Arias, is a senior at Highland Park High School in Illinois. He applied to 11 schools and has narrowed his choices down to two. He's deciding between University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Miami University in Ohio.
Visiting the two colleges helped Daniel significantly in making his decision.
If possible, experts agree that visiting the campus can help students get a better picture of the school and understand the campus culture.
When Daniel visited University of Illinois with his family, he really liked the fact he encountered people from not only all over the country, but from around the world.
"My family and I were standing by the alma mater statue and an Argentinian family came up to us and asked us to take their picture," said Avila, "It was cool to see other people from all over Latin America there."
Denisse Gaitan, is also a senior at Highland Park High School. She is having a tough time choosing between four schools. She had to opportunity to visit three of the four schools, Marquette University, University of Illinois and DePaul University.
"They're each different," said Denisse, "I went to Marquette on a guided tour and had a chance to ask questions to someone who worked in admissions. A lot of people asked about the opportunities at the school and campus activities and clubs."
Denisse's visit helped her realize she wanted a bigger campus with more students.
"I want more of a big college in a small town," said Denisse.
Financial Aid is Main Factor for Many Students
A deal breaker for Denisse and Daniel is financial aid. They are not alone; for most students, financial aid plays a crucial role in the college decision process.
Maylin Fernandez is a college guidance counselor in New York City. She works with Spanish-speaking and first generation students who may not have much resources or guidance from their families on the process.
"They work really hard and mostly do it on their own. Although their parents are supportive, they do all of the researching and keep up with deadlines on their own." Fernandez says her students often come to her with questions and concerns over their financial aid.
Maylin's best advice to students is to not be afraid to ask for help and ask a lot of questions.
There are resources to help students assess the financial aid packages they receive. Angela María García, executive director of College Planning Services for the College Board, recommends students use their free online financial aid comparison tool to view and compare aid rewards from different colleges side by side.
Students have to take into account the total cost of attending school; beyond tuition, there are books, transportation, and if a student is going away to college, there is food and housing - all factors that add up significantly.
Fernandez suggests students and families to ask plenty of questions. She arranged a college night at her school for students to encourage their parents to ask questions. Many parents were concerned over their child leaving home and possibly going out of state, but Fernandez encourages her students to explore the option of an out-of-state school if that is possible.
"I will encourage students to apply to schools that they can commute to, but also schools that are farther," she said.
Location and cost aren't everything when it comes down to the right school. Academics also comes into consideration for students. Finding the right school with the program that suits their academic needs is important for many.
Highland Park High School senior Joe Pinsky is pursuing a business major. Before even applying to schools, he researched schools with the top business school ranking.
"I want to go somewhere where not only am I happy, but where I can have a job after I graduate," said Joe.
A few days ago Joe submitted his final decision to the University of Illinois. He is happy with his decision, but admits it wasn't easy.
"I asked for advice from everyone," said Joe, "I knew at the end of the day it came down to what I wanted and where I saw myself going."
Both Daniel and Denisse are undeclared, but they are are interested in specific activities. Daniel looked into Spanish and Latino clubs at each school. Denisse asked schools about their volunteer and service work opportunities.
Fernandez's final words of wisdom: "Take advantage of opportunities and ask yourself what you want out of this."
Most importantly, students should ask plenty of questions to counselors, teachers and advisors, friends who have navigated the college experience well and other adults who may help put into perspective the choices available and the balancing act of choosing among colleges which are different in size, geographical location, opportunities and financial aid opportunities.