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My One-Step Rule for Deciding What College to Attend

Wake Forest or University of Richmond? UC San Diego or Loyola Marymount? Colby or Middlebury? Ohio State or Purdue?

April is the time of year when families ask my opinion on where their child should enroll. Even if I know the student well, it is an impossible question, "Here or there?" And I hear them asking others too. Friends, neighbors, alumni, fellow parents, and industry folks in the field that the student wants to pursue.
Families will seek out as many opinions as possible. Yet, the more people they ask, the more complicated the decision gets. I can literally see the student's stress levels rising the more people their parents seek out for an answer.

Unless a family has a specific limitation that makes this decision straightforward (like cost, distance, or something else), I have a simple one-step rule when students are trying to make a decision about where to enroll.
There is nothing more important to do before making a final enrollment decision than to visit your top few contenders right now. Yes, it can be expensive. But if a student has limited resources, I recommend that they reach out to their admissions officer and ask if there is a travel stipend for them. Yes, you might need to take a few days off from school, but there is nothing better than seeing the college during the week while classes are in session. Yes, you need to invest time in these visits by spending at least a full day on campus, but you shouldn't be visiting five or more schools. You just want to visit the top contenders—two or three schools that you have narrowed your list down to.
Some students will balk, "Well, I visited campus in the fall or last year. I don't need to go back again." Yet, there is something profoundly different about their perspective after getting admitted. Trust me, I have been doing this for 25 years. It is like a chemical change in the brain happens after a student is admitted. Whether you visited before or not, you will be surprised by how differently you view that college as an admitted student. 

READ MORE: Is It the Beginning of the End of Legacy Admissions?

So, make the trip. Make the plans. Make the admitted student program happen. You won't be sorry. 
Stop relying on others' opinions about the most important decision of your life. Rely on your gut, your heart, and your mind. And the only way to do that is to visit.