Not a Fig Deal

Breaking down the factors that go into choosing a college


Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Emma Li, Co Editor-in-Chief

Results are in. And now all the research that happened so many months ago returns again. If you got into your dream school, congratulations – but if it’s complicated, it’s time to really think about the next few years of your life. No pressure. Since we never covered the initial college research process since it is different for everyone, it is now time to return to your criteria. 


Each person looks for different standards when looking for a college to apply to. As financial aid packages make their way back after acceptances, the unfortunate reality is that money is the most primary obstacle for most people. As a general rule of thumb for those still waiting for financial aid packages, your own state school (Mizzou) will give you more than other state schools (say, the University of Another State). Public schools are not limited to state schools, and those outside of your own state will also limit their financial aid packages for those outside of their own state. Private schools such as research universities and liberal arts schools tend to give more, but the more prestigious schools with strong alumni connections to rich alumni specifically will give even more than that. I know that something I wish I had done differently was not to apply to other state schools, because the financial aid is most certainly not enough. For those reading this beforehand, even though people say to ignore the sticker price before deciding to apply, it doesn’t hurt to do a general search of schools with good financial aid if you’re not sure where to start. 

While comparing financial aid packages, the Cost of Attendance (COA) is tuition, room and board, transportation, books and other fees before aid, loans and scholarships. Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is how much the school expects your family to contribute each year. Net cost is how much you are actually expected to pay after loans, grants and scholarships. 

When you are thinking about money realistically, consider how much you are able to work during and after college. Some schools offer work-study programs where your hourly pay goes to affording school, which includes but is not limited to conducting research and performing manual labor. Also, consider how much the average student makes one year after graduating from that school. If it is still too much, consider appealing your financial aid offer to that school. 

Everything Else

If you made a spreadsheet when doing your research, go back to that resource now. You may be perfectly situated to make a chart if you did your research then. If you were worried you would get too attached, now is your time to get attached. Consider majors, size, location, weather, public/private, distance from home, accessible transportation (airports, trains, buses, metros), internships, job opportunities, recreation, networking, social events, dorms, food, schedule (semester/trimester/quarter), whether it takes your AP or UMSL credit, whether it’s a real campus, middle of a city or the middle of nowhere, career support, alumni connections, how close you are to family friends, diversity, mascot, school colors and really anything else. 

Remember that you will live, breathe, learn, sleep, eat, walk and everything else here for months at a time. Categories that I didn’t know to consider when doing research months ago were accessible transportation, what the campus looks like and how close I am to family friends. If I have to take a plane to go to school, it would be really nice if the school I’m going to is close to an airport that often has direct flights to St. Louis. I would also like to go to a school that has free Metro passes to local places in or near that city. Additionally, not every school has a campus that looks like a college, but has buildings scattered across a town or city. Lastly, distance from family friends was not really something I considered until I realized home cooked food would be hard to come by if I lived beyond the reaches of St. Louis. If you have extended family or family friends who can cook, that could be a small tip in the scale if you are between two top choice schools. 

More quantitative information to look at includes the student to faculty ratio, average class size, percentage of students who graduate on time, student satisfaction, average income and more. On the other hand, websites such as Rate My Professor can also assist in looking at the types of teaching styles that are more difficult to quantify. 

If that still isn’t enough, look back at any essays you wrote, specifically the “Why College” essays. If you really liked writing that essay or doing research for that essay, maybe think about that again.

Now is also the time to go back to what you compromised on while choosing to apply here. Maybe you hate the weather, but the internship opportunities are perfect. Ask yourself what you are willing to compromise on, and whether there is a school that you didn’t have to compromise on at all when deciding to apply. If it’s a maybe, then perhaps it shouldn’t be considered at all. Unless it’s a resounding “yes,” ask yourself how willing you are to go into debt for that school – unless money is what tips the scales. 

I listed a lot of criteria, but this is school. You’re probably going to college for an education, so the academic fit is definitely a point to consider. This, along with money, are most people’s deciding factors. Deciding factors probably shouldn’t include unnecessary opinions of others, name recognition or which of your friends are going. Of course, know who to trust when asking for advice, but really only you know what is best for you, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Name recognition, as much as we like to say it doesn’t matter, still does a little bit. Let’s say you got into Harvard, but you’ve seen Mizzou and it feels like home, while the New England lifestyle makes you uncomfortable and out of place. If your instinct is telling you something and your instinct is usually right, maybe listen to that. 

Really Looking

When it is possible, tour the school. Many schools have opportunities for admitted students to visit and ask questions, and this time you can look at the school without fear of what if you’ll never get in. If travel is a problem, look at virtual tours from both the official website and YouTube vlogs from students. If that doesn’t work, contact your admissions counselor and current students for a current look on those schools. 

Final Thoughts

Finally, remember that you’ll change. You’ll be at this school for years, and if not, you might transfer somewhere else. Think back to this time last year, or even six months ago. You’re probably different, and that doesn’t stop once you get to college. Think about how you want to grow, and how that school can help you get there. But at the end of the day, only you really know what you need.