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The Difficulties of Picking a College

While spring can be an exciting time for many seniors as they hear back from their dream colleges, it can also be a difficult time for those who are deciding between multiple schools that they’re interested in. Factors like location, school environment, and tuition are all crucial components to this decision process. Due to the recent delay in the FAFSA rollout, a significant number of students are forced to make a choice without knowing the type of financial aid they will receive. While some are going into the decision deadline happily committed to their college of choice, others are carefully weighing their options, hoping that they can decide by the deadline. 

Senior Chloe Merrick applied to 11 colleges, was accepted into nine, and waitlisted at one. After cutting out seven of those options, Merrick is now deciding between two schools: University of California Berkeley and Oregon State University. “Overall [ranking], preference of schools, and cost really narrowed it down…There were a couple schools that were just too expensive like…[University of Colorado] Boulder, University of San Francisco, and University of Washington,” Merrick explained. “Berkeley and UCLA were always my top for the UC’s, and I toured Oregon State because…it’s really good for my major, which is environmental science.” Her biggest considerations going into her current decision are the programs offered for her major, the location of the school, and the cost. 

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) launched a new version this year that was ridden with errors, meaning that colleges didn’t start receiving students’ financial information until late March. Typically, this is when students would have already heard back about the aid they are receiving for their school. Some schools have pushed back their commitment deadlines from May 1 to later in the month to accommodate the issues with FAFSA. While this has helped offer more time for students to make their decision, many are still left to make a choice without knowing what they will receive. Merrick is still waiting to hear back from FAFSA, and in the meantime, the major element she is looking for now is, “energy. I’m trying to go to student days and see how I can envision myself better [at each place].” Aside from tuition costs, one of the hardest parts of her decision process is getting over the mental barrier associated with being accepted to the UCs. “I feel like Berkeley is such a good school that I would feel like I’m passing up a good opportunity…I’m going to feel pressured to go to a UC, but I also feel like it doesn’t matter…Oregon State is an amazing school for what I want to do. That’s making it hard because I feel almost obligated to go to the UCs I got into because they’re ‘better schools’…It’s a hard mental barrier to go over.” For Merrick, the actual application process was easier than the decision process had been. The combination of college life becoming a reality and having to decide within a time crunch has created significant stress for her. Merrick is planning to take the month of April to decide before committing to either school in early May. “I don’t want to jump the gun or anything…I want to explore my options a bit more.” Merrick’s advice to other seniors making similar decisions is “Don’t go based on what other people think you should do. Obviously get input from other people like your parents, but really go with your gut…which is hard because my gut’s so torn between the two right now.” 

Charley Raymond is encountering a similar situation choosing between one school in California and another out of state. Raymond applied to ten schools, got into eight, and is now deciding between California State University Long Beach and University of Washington. It was “relatively easy” for Raymond to narrow her choices down from eight to two. After knocking out the majority of the private schools on her list due to price reasons, she was able to eliminate the majority of the other schools she got into based on their prestige, ranking, and school culture. “I toured UW (University of Washington) my junior year and really loved how beautiful it was. The whole environment is really nice and that was a really big thing for me. I wanted to go to a school with a good sports team where there was a lot of school spirit…With Long Beach I just liked that it’s similar to home but still kind of far away. It’s a nice school…The other schools are fine but they’re either too expensive, or the environment isn’t really for me.” While Raymond is confident in having narrowed down her choices, she hasn’t rejected any of her acceptances yet. The biggest issue she’s encountered so far is balancing her desire for a school atmosphere with tuition prices. She says, “Washington is not a cute price, it’s like $70,000…Long Beach is going to be maybe 20 or 30 thousand…but Long Beach is also a big commuter school, so I feel like Washington has more of a school atmosphere and a normal college campus.” Aside from making a mental pros and cons list, Raymond is unsure of what will go into making her decision. “Right now I’m kind of just floundering…I have no idea, I could not even begin to tell you where I’m going to go.” Some of the difficulties in choosing a school come from the challenges of rejection. Raymond explains, “A lot of people experience struggles with academic validation during the college experience when they get rejected or accepted…Everything about it is so emotionally distressing for so many people…Everyone else is so happy for [me] but it’s like ‘no, this is actually hurting me at the same time.’”

As the May commitment deadlines are quickly approaching, some students are being confronted with the harsh reality of their college decision. Balancing their desire for a suitable college environment with the demands of a university price tag can be a stressful experience that offers no relief from the already perilous application process. Until that deadline arrives, students will remain uncertain of their futures, going back and forth over their mental pros and cons lists. 

[Image Credit Mary Moses]


  • Mary Moses

    Mary Moses is a junior at Santa Barbara High School and has been a member of The Forge for three years. She also plays for the tennis team and enjoys reading, going to the beach, and spending time with friends in her free time.

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