Making your final college choice

How do I choose?

Use our interactive tool to identify the best college based on what's most important to you!

Our approach

A quality decision makes sense in your head and feels right in your heart.

Finding the right balance between the head and heart requires sound reasoning.

Sound Reasoning is the process of combining values, alternatives, and information to identify the alternative (your preferred school) that gets you the most of what you want (values), given what you can know (information).

A pros and cons list has significant weaknesses--our process helps improve on them.

5min explainer video

The weight and rate table

A weight and rate table helps with complex decisions when there are multiple values and several alternatives at play. It calculates an easy-to-understand ranking of your options based on your scores.

We'll help you create a personalized weight and rate table, like the example you see here.

SAMPLE

Get started

Let's start by collecting your alternatives and values, which will be automatically entered into the weight and rate table. Then, you'll be able to work with the tool to test your expectations based on the information you gathered during your research.

List schools where you are accepted

These are your alternatives, aka options. You will be able to add more schools later.

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What do you want?

Values are what we care about—wants, needs, likes, dislikes.

Common values when considering schools include:

  • Academics: reputation of programs, graduation rate, ROI for students
  • Programs: majors, minors, independent study, study abroad, distance learning
  • Cost: courses, lodging, travel to and from, financial aid
  • Location: distance from home, weather, ease of access to valued interests (e.g., city vs. rural)
  • Population: sense of community, student competition
  • Extracurriculars: athletics, clubs, Greek life, student government,  employment
  • Spirituality: school's spiritual creed, local religious organizations
  • Personal character growth: fostering resilience, stretching comfort zones

List your top values and weight them

Enter your highest priority values. Give each a weight based on its relative importance to the others. The combined weights should add up to 100.  You can add more values later.

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Your start on the weight and rate table

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Complete your weight and rate table

Rank your alternatives against your values

Rate how well each school fulfills each value using a 1-10 scale, where 1 is worst, 10 is best, and 5 is halfway between. The ratings are relative, according to how you perceive them.

The diagram above shows someone living in Oregon, who really likes sunshine and wants a high quality academic experience. How do you describe what you want?

Identify the alternative that gets you the most of what you want (values)

The tool multiplies the value weight against the alternative rating, and it sums each to give a score for each school.
The alternative that has the highest score is the best, based on your current assumptions (expectations).

Test your assumptions! What if you adjust the weights? What if you adjust the ratings? Do the adjustments change your preferred alternative? This activity is called a sensitivity analysis, and it can increase your understanding of how sensitive your decision is to your assumptions.

Does it make sense and feel right?

Just because you have a numerical answer identifying your best option, you should still check it against your intuition (head) and understanding (heart).

While the weight and rate method is an improvement over the pros and cons list, it still has some weaknesses to consider.

  • You may need to collect more information about the schools to fill in gaps--the tool can help identify the most important elements (values/ratings) where learning more is needed.
  • The weight and rate method does not take into account uncertainty--if you need to include uncertainty, like whether you will choose a different major in the future, you might need to use another tool, like a decision tree.
  • Are your values clear, do they interact, and are they consistent? You may need to go another level deeper to think about trade-offs, like whether $10,000 more in cost is worth a more beautiful location.

Another level of detail and analysis only makes sense if it will change your decision. If more analysis and information won't change the decision, you may have reached a high quality decision.

Learn more about how to make sure you have decision quality in the guided questions and videos below.

What makes a good decision?

The purpose of making good quality decisions is to get more of what you truly want out of life. A good decision makes sense and feels right.

Know your frame

It's best to start by clarifying the decision you're tackling by defining the frame. When choosing a college, it can seem daunting, like you're trying to decide what to do for the rest of your life. But, you're really not.

Focus on the next few years in school and a handful of years thereafter. Carefully consider school's purpose, your perspective, and the scope of making your college decision.

Challenge your frame

Complete these statements:

  • My primary purpose for attending higher education is...
  • My short term goals in and out of school are...
  • My long term goals after graduation are...

Ask your head:

  • Why is this problem difficult to solve?
  • Who else might be affected by my decision?
  • Have I imagined the possible outcomes I'd experience from each school?

Ask your heart:

  • Whose choice is it? Is the decision mine alone?
  • Who needs to be involved to reach a decision that makes sense and feels right?
  • What would keep me from acting if I saw the answer clearly?

Keep in mind

Recommendations:

  • Think creatively about your frame.
  • Try contracting and expanding your frame.
  • Consult with others for life-changing decisions.
  • Avoid being limited by fears, peer pressure, etc.
  • Avoid framing too narrowly to bring it into your comfort zone.
  • Avoid framing too broadly and making it difficult to address.
  • Avoid making wrong assumptions like taking things as given that aren't so.

Clarify your values

Values are what you care about like wants, needs, likes, and dislikes. They cause us to prefer the consequences of one alternative decision over another.

Like the rest of us, it's always possible that making a final decision is difficult because you're aren't completely clear on your values. Values can be in transition, so it's important to challenge your assumed values. How? Experiment. For example, you accept an invitation to go to a concert. You enjoy it, but if you feel guilty or worried that you spent too much money from the savings meant for the new winter clothes you'll need this year, then maybe long-term money goals outweigh temporary fun.

Challenge your values

Complete these statements:

  • The opportunities I would likely have from school A are... (and do this for each school)
  • The opportunities I like the most are... because...

Ask your head:

  • Can I explain how much of something I would give up to get more of something else? For instance, am I willing to experience some discomfort (social, weather, class size, etc.) to attend a school that can better meet my long-term goals?

Ask your heart:

  • Am I considering seriously enough the potential impacts of my decision on all those I care about?
  • Am I overreacting or underreacting to the risks of each school?

Keep in mind

Recommendations:

  • It's unlikely a single school will completely fulfill all your values and goals to the utmost. Consider what trade-offs you'll make when choosing one school over another.
  • Don't forget to consider the values of those you care about.
  • Visualize a typical week at each school and consider which parts you find exciting or beneficial and which you don't. Try to match those parts to your values.

Create more alternatives

An alternative is one of the possible courses of action available. While you have your acceptance letters already, that doesn't mean choosing a single one is your only option. You can't consider an alternative if you haven't thought of it, so put on your creative brainstorming hat! Often the best alternatives are those that combine two or more options.

Challenge your alternatives

Ask yourself:

  • Are there any options that are not on my list (community college first, delayed attendance to take a gap year, taking classes from more than one school)?

Ask your head:

  • What would happen if I didn't accept any school?
  • Do I need to get any more information to help me choose?

Ask your heart:

  • Which options immediately make my heart feel warm?

Keep in mind

Recommendations:

  • Find ways to talk with people who attend or have recently attended each of your school options.
  • Find a way to visit each school, even if it's by finding someone currently there who takes you on live tour over the phone.
  • Learn about life beyond each campus: eating establishments, convenience of amenities, local activities and culture, etc.
  • Visualize a typical week at each school and consider what information you might still be missing.

Gather important info

Gathering information is critical for anticipating the probabilities of getting what you want in the face of an always uncertain future.

We'll assume you've done a good deal of research on schools and their associated opportunities. But, to make your final choice about which to attend, consider carefully if even more fine-tuned research is required.

Challenge your information

Ask yourself:

  • What do I wish I knew  and how might I get it?
  • Is the information I've gathered from reliable sources?
  • Am I considering the sources of my researched statistical studies and their biases?

Ask your head:

  • How likely am I to get my most valued opportunities and goals from each school?
  • Am I giving in to laziness or reluctance?
  • Is it worth the time and effort to get more information before making my final decision?

Ask your heart:

  • Are my feelings stopping me from getting the information I want?

Keep in mind

Recommendations:

  • Find ways to talk with people who attend or have recently attended each of your school options.
  • Find a way to visit each school, even if it's by finding someone currently there who takes you on live tour over the phone.
  • Learn about life beyond each campus: eating establishments, convenience of amenities, local activities and culture, etc.
  • Visualize a typical week at each school and consider what information you might still be missing.

Use sound reasoning

Reasoning is the process of combining alternatives, information, and values to arrive at a decision. It gives rationale because it completes the sentence, "I am choosing this alternative because..."

To back up your decision, you can articulate the schools considered, information (including risks) considered, values and trade-offs recognized, and the method for analyzing all of the above.

Challenge your reasoning

Ask yourself:

  • Can I explain my choice to others? I chose this school because it can get me the most of what I want which is... The risks are... But the offsets are...

Ask your head:

  • What would it take to switch my decision to another school?
  • Have I gathered enough information to feel confident in my expectations?

Ask your heart:

  • Do people I trust, respect, and/or care about agree with my logic/rationale?
  • Does my final logical choice feel right?

Keep in mind

Recommendations:

  • Step away for a while and/or get some help if you start to feel paralysis by analysis.
  • Don't assume there are no risks.
  • Avoid the wishful thinking trap: "Because I want it, it will happen."
  • Avoid making the comfortable choice without considering important risk and reward factors.

Commit to follow through

Commitment to follow through means that you are set to execute on your decision. It's like pulling an internal switch, and you'll do whatever it takes to make your decision real. You're ready when you're prepared with all the necessary resources like time, effort, money, and help from others. You should also ready to overcome obstacles and have a plan B prepared.

Are you committed?

Ask yourself:

  • Am I ready to send in my letter accepting the school's offer?
  • Do I have the necessary means to successfully attend my chosen school and/or the solid plans to get them?

Ask your head:

  • What would stop me from saying yes to my chosen school?
  • Am I prepared for the consequences of saying yes? 

Ask your heart:

  • What fears do I have that might prevent me from making my decision real and how do I address them?

Keep in mind

Recommendations:

  • Create an preparation action plan for requirements like acquiring lodging, selecting your first classes, joining teams/clubs/organizations.
  • Create milestones and due dates so incremental achievement are clear.
  • Avoid the stress and anxiety of procrastination.
  • Celebrate!
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