Deciding on THE college out of many

Hi guys! I’m a current high school senior and currently in the tiring process of waiting in acceptances, scholarships, etc.

I have gotten some info an acceptances back which has really led me to begin thinking about how in the world I am going to decide in the end. I applied to over 15 schools because I was having COVID panic and wanted options. Definitely went a little overboard but I am glad I have choices. (I am from KY for reference in this)

So there is a few parts to this question, all summing up to: How did you decide what was the best option? Answer one, all, whatever you feel! Sharing personal experiences in each category would be great, All about dilemmas.

  1. Money: I originally was ONLY thinking about money in this process. I’ve worked hard and come out of junior year with a 4.0/4.28 W GPA and 34 ACT. I mostly applied to schools with good merit aid that would award me for this because I wanna feel like my work paid off. Additionally, money is limited from my parents contribution (they said they can do about 20k per year out of pocket. Above that= student loans and working for money on my part in summer (would do anyways tho) and school year. I thought that the choice would become clear to me solely based on money but I’m quickly realizing that’s not the case.

For example: I have a school that is across the country (Arizona) that I could go for 15k per year but others closer (Ohio) that would be roughly $23k per year.

I know that 23k is still great for out of state but I get down on myself for thinking about making my parents pay more when they could pay less.

What makes paying more worth it? What makes taking out loans vs. not worth?

  1. Distance: As mentioned above, I have schools all over the US.
    How did you decide between schools that were vastly different distances from home? Especially with parents who want you to stay close?

  2. Feel/FIT:
    What thing helped you KNOW that you found the school where you belong. Physically on campus as well as through research/virtual means?

  3. Politics:
    This is something I have thought a lot about.

Is going somewhere with more aligning views for more money or for more distance worth it?

  1. Finally, what was the OVERALL process and timeline you used for eliminating, getting down to a top (3,4,5), visiting, revisiting, talking to staff, etc??

Sounds like you have more acceptances to come, maybe something will come up at that right balance between money/distance etc.! It’s good you are considering this from so many angles.

Money was an important factor for us but DD did not end up at the very cheapest because of distance/ease of travel. Some far schools are relatively easy to travel to with nonstop flights and transportation to and from airport, others are not. After a visit to a not-so-simple location, she decided that travel hassles were something to avoid. Now we all love having her just 90 miles away. We’ve been able to see her theatre performances, etc.

As far as loans, something we talked about was how being debt free at graduation would allow her to live more of the rest of her life as she wanted, rather than hocking it for a few years’ experiences.

She also made a list of some very specific wants and needs. Among the schools that fit budget and had her major, the college she chose pretty much nailed the list.

She also knew her major and we could compare catalogs to see what classes were required. Some versions of the major were more appealing than others.

Best wishes to you in your decision making!

Remember that the purpose of going to college is academic study.

Consider your intended or possible majors and the quality and fit of those majors for your interests at each college. Course catalogs and schedules, and faculty rosters and pages can give you an idea of how each department or subject is represented at the college.

Also consider whether, at any of the colleges, the major is filled to capacity and must have a secondary admission process for students to get into the major based on college grades or other criteria (whether a high threshold or competitive admission).


I really wouldn’t worry too much about distance, once you are comparing schools more than a few hours away. Once you’re farther than an easy drive, and living on campus, it’s not really an issue other than 4-5 round-trips a year. That should be a relatively minor factor.

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My D, who wasn’t 100% sure on a major (has interests in multiple areas) chose a school with an open curriculum. She felt it was the best fit for her in terms of academics and peers. It was also the most expensive. They reduced her FA after the first year and had to transfer out. It was no longer “worth” the (much) higher tuition. My S is majoring in engineering so once he had all his acceptances, he went with what he considered to be the best fit as well, what campus he liked the best and where he felt he’d fit in. He wasn’t looking at any top schools so for him, no program was really better than any other. As far as your specific questions:

Money was important for us. From the beginning we told our kids they would take any subsidized loans we were eligible for and be responsible for paying those back. We wanted them to have skin in the game. They also contributed money they earned in hs and summer vacation. Any schools requiring unsubsidized loans would’ve been nonstarters (note D’s transfer, above). That was where we drew the line. As stated above, D ended up at her most expensive option. We felt it was worth it because of its many strengths (until it wasn’t, lol). S’s number one school was also more expensive than his other options. We didn’t think it was worth the extra, but he did a merit appeal and got another $8k, bringing it in line with his other choices, so he was able to attend. If he hadn’t gotten that money he would’ve been at his second choice school.

Distance - my kids only applied to schools in the northeast. Both they and us decided the school needed to be within driving distance. Having said that, D was accepted to two schools in the Pittsburgh area, which is an 8 hour drive for us. She felt it was just too far to drive. We told her we’d make an exception for one of them (this was when she was transferring and emotionally fragile - we really just wanted her to be happy where she ended up) and told her we’d fly her back and forth if she wanted to attend, but she still decided against it. She’s about 5 hours away now.

Feel/Fit - Both my kids had their top 2 or 3 schools that were based on fit. They liked the programs, campus, student body vibe, etc. They both did in person visits though. Not sure how you’d get that feeling without visiting. I think this is one that you just “know” when you know.

Politics - Both my kids wanted a school that was somewhat moderate, or at least where politics wasn’t in your face on a daily basis. They didn’t even apply to schools they thought would be like that.

You didn’t mention size, but this was a big factor for my kids. Both of them wanted to attend a smaller school. If you have big and small schools on your list, that’s something to think about too.

ETA: Another consideration: my D wanted to go out of state and experience something different. S didn’t really care (and ended up in state).

As far as a timeline, neither really thought about anything much until they had all their acceptances in. Some schools were eliminated because they were rejected or wait listed. Once they had their final list of acceptances, it was fairly easy to take some off the list and end up with a top two or three. Then they did second visits and/or accepted students day. After that it was pretty clear which one they wanted to attend.

Best of luck to you in your decision-making process!


At this point, since visits aren’t possible, I would say wait until you have all your acceptances and packages. Purdue is stingy with OOS merit because they’ve frozen tuition for 10+ years for everyone. It’s very unlikely you will get them, and some of the other schools, below your $20K/year budget.

Once you have all your affordable schools on the table, I would agree to start with the academics - look at the 4 year plans of study for your intended major first and foremost. Even for degrees that are more prescribed, there is a lot of variability for gen eds, how AP credits can be used, minors, concentrations, etc…

I also think it’s important to look at ease of changing majors since so many students don’t stick to their first choice, and as also noted, secondary admissions requirements for certain majors.

For fit, my D looked at how happy students seemed on campus. Were kids smiling, talking to each other, was the vibe collaborative or more competitive? IMO, that’s harder to gauge from virtual tours but you can ask to be put in touch with current students when you have your narrowed down list. You can also post here on the school specific forums.

Reading the school’s newspapers and following their social media pages can also help you gain some insight.

Most large schools have a spectrum of thoughts and ideas. I wouldn’t worry about political leanings because you will find your people at any of these schools.

Congrats your acceptances so far!


I applaud your practicality in leveraging hard work in HS for merit in college. FWIW, I attended my state flagship and was admitted to its honors program. It was a great experience. You are very lucky in that U KY has an excellent honors program and merit scholarships.

Most public universities, by virtue of size, will have diverse political views represented on campus. Also students motivated by cost may be more pragmatically-minded than politically motivated. Their main focus it to earn a degree that will set them up for success.

You might ask admissions to connect you with current students and again, if you are admitted to honors programs, there may be admitted students events that you can attend virtually. There are also lots of vlogs and promotional videos on YouTube that can give you a sense of campus look and feel and what it’s like to be a student there.

Finally, if you are thinking about attending further away, check availability of flights. During the pandemic these are curtailed, of course. But frequency, cost, availability (or not) of nonstops, length of connections, etc. Maybe not a dealbreaker, but worth considering.

Best of luck!

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Great point on looking at the classes required for major at each school! I do know my major and am going in for Nutrition/Dietetics and therefore only applied to schools that offer that major. I will definitely look into more specifics of the major at each school!

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I’m going in as a Nutrition/Dietetics major so it is not one that is commonly filled up or super competitive admissions wise. I applied to schools that simply had the major (many top ranked for it), but will definitely take that suggestion of looking more closely at the specifics like quality and courses:)

Good point! Once it gets up to 6 hours I see it as a wash, but a few of my schools are like 2 or 3 hours away which is pretty appealing travel wise. My fam has always been more of a “drive everywhere” family rather than flying. That could change though.

thanks so much for the reply!! first, size wasn’t mentioned because all of my schools are big, over 18,000 undergrads:) Not really by choice but smaller liberal arts schools just don’t have my intended major (nutrition/dietetics). So its big state schools for me. All OOS except for one safety in-state, because like your D I want a new experience! Definitely going to visit my top three, even if it isn’t formal with COVID. I’m certain that I will have to step foot on campus to know:)

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Thank you for the reply! U KY was my one in-state that I applied to:) Great school, but nearly my entire high school goes there and while I know I know I may not even see them, it’s more the principal of it. Feeling boxed in or stuck with people’s preconceived ideas of me. I just kinda wanna do something different, be a little further, and do some new things. We will see though! Definitely will look at flights! Thank you! I really only have three that are far enough to NEED to fly, but that’s really important for those.

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For sure. I’m definitely waiting for acceptances/packages , but feeling like they are gonna start to roll in quickly soon so trying to be prepared. Not expecting much from Purdue or some of he other schools but I guess that’s the thing I am debating, say if they got my price down to 25k, would it be worth it to take out some loans to support going to a higher academic school like that??? That’s kinda the dilemma. Also, I am going into Nutrition/Dietetics so I feel like my chances of getting departmental money from HHS is a bit better than if I was in engineering or something like that. Not counting on it, just considering the possibility and trying to be prepared for that decision.

Ease of changing majors is a great point! I don’t plannnn to at this point, but you never know!

Thanks so much for the response!

Cost. Most people have a budget. Going in-debt for a BA isn’t wise. Your in-state schools are usually the lowest cost option. S20 had same concerns that our local state flagship would be high school 2.0. Not true. College isn’t high school. More options, more freedoms and you can pick your friends. Any large flagship will have kids from out of state and international students.

Are online classes OK for you or do you want in-person or at least some type of hybrid? Look at what your schools did this year as an indicator for next year. Consider a Gap year.

Distance became an issue with Covid. Parents choice. We had to be able to drive there in one day which is about 10 hours. It only removed one school from his list. S20 was fine with it. In fact, I think he was kind of glad…it removed another choice from the list.

Don’t underestimate costs and expenses if you go to school far away from home. Flights, Uber, shipping packages, etc. adds up. Also include time in the cost. Driving X hours each way has a cost too. Go online and see what flights cost to your colleges. Multiply that times 4 or more for an annual cost.

Really drill down into the requirements to graduate. Understand what classes are required. Map out a 4 year plan and see how you like it. If S20 had done that from the beginning he would’ve eliminated 3 or 4 schools. Some schools required more “fluff” classes that he didn’t want to take.

Last and most important to me as a parent was environment and understanding my kid. Some kids thrive anywhere. Some kids need to be pushed or surrounded by equal peers to thrive. In sports terms it’s playing to the level of your competition. Understand yourself and where you’ll thrive. S20 had some nice offers but when he got into Georgia Tech the search was over. He was on-campus this fall and did well first semester. I’m hopeful he will continue to do-well and thrive. We probably went over budget but it’s worth it. The good thing is that he walked onto campus with 51 credits so he probably can graduate in 3 years. Combine that with study abroad (hopefully) and internships the cost won’t be much more than our in-state flagship (Pitt, Penn State, Temple).

Good luck.


The new normal is uncertainty. Even if you could afford to go out of state now, that might not be true in a couple of years. If a financial hardship happens to mom or dad, you won’t have enough financial aid to finish your degree. There are caps on how much student loan money you can take out. If you go out of state, make darn sure you have a scholarship in writing. This way you can finish your degree independently if a layoff or business failure happens. That could literally save your future!

In-state is always a safer bet, plus it’s easier to get a scholarship from an in-state school. And I know I could be strung-up as a heretic for mentioning this, but here goes…you could cut your student loans in half or more by simply going to community college for your first 2 years. There I said it!


It’s not always true that it is easier to get a scholarship at an in-state school. Some in-state schools offer top OOS students more as way to draw them there. The goal generally is to both increase the stats of the school and in hopes that students will end up settling in that state long term. Other in-state schools don’t need to offer in-state students merit only scholarships because they are so in demand.


Something else to consider. Ohio University has what they call their Honors Tutortial College. It’s rather different than what most universities offer. One of their programs of study is call Translational Health witch deals with exercise and nutrition. You would be dealing with a Professor who is your “Tutor” and with some restriction design the program to fit you. That can mean taking graduate level courses etc. They offer full instate tuition plus you would eligible for a $7000 per year out of state tuition assistance. OU is in a beautiful area and Athens is a wonderful mid sized college town. It may not be what your interested in but it is fairly unique. I believe the deadline to apply if you have already been accepted to OU is in January. It’s very selective but you have the academic credentials to apply.

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100%. I’ve done pretty in-depth research about scholarships that certain schools offer and there are many many that are super generous to OOS students, often making the equivalent scholarships for in-state students less to make the opportunities equal. Also many offer OOS tuition waivers that can bring you down to the cost of in-state easily. I can go to an OOS institution for a great price, probably comparable to the in-states that I am waiting to hear back from.

Hi! I looked into this program but decided it wasn’t for me with my future goals. However, I was invited to apply for (and applied for) the Entrepreneurship Honors Track and the OMSAR programs that both offer scholarships. I’m praying for good news from atleast one of those! These just align with my passions and learning style more than the Tutorial programs, although that program seems great!! Thank you for your response!

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Hi! I’ve applied to OOS schools that I know are generous with their guaranteed, written, renewable merit aid to make certain that one of them will work. Many of them are likely going to end up at the same price as my in-state flagship school (UK). My parents also have some college savings for me. I am going to go somewhere that we all know that we can afford for sure. hahahah you’re right about community college. I know that’s a great option for some, I just don’t think it’s for me. Thank you for your response!