Admit-A-Bull // Official Admissions Blog

What to do Before Committing to a School


The acceptance letters are rolling in and it feels like everyone around you can’t stop wondering where you’ll land—presumably even your postal worker, who’s been seeing a ton of college logos pop up in her mailbag. The time has come to choose your school. How exciting!

If you’re ride or die for a particular school and you’ve already made up your mind—easy-peasy—that’s great! Here’s what you should do next:

  • Accept the offer from your chosen school.
  • Pay your deposit to secure your spot.
  • Send in the required documents, as outlined by the school.
  • Tell other schools you won’t be attending so they can give your spot to another student.
  • Celebrate! Buy a t-shirt, grab a banner, tell everyone, and take lots of photos.

For everyone else, this is what we’re working toward. It sounds like an awesome time, right? You’ll get to celebrate a major milestone and put angst in the rearview. If you’re still not sure about where to spend the next few years, you probably have a lot of questions and a tight deadline of May 1st. Committing to a school can be your most challenging life decision yet, and that’s okay. You’ve got this! This article will empower you to finish choosing the right college. The best part is that the finish line is perfectly within reach—especially when you have a game plan.

Create Your College Commitment Checklist

Advisors recommend creating a college commitment checklist, a list of metrics that you can use to grade each of your potential choices.

It’s like time travel: a glimpse into several possible futures, evaluating each one to see if it’s the right fit for you. Using your college commitment checklist as a guide, you’ll discover what matters most to you. You may even learn something new about the colleges on your list—advantages you never knew to consider.

“When you focus on factors, not specific schools, it will bring clarity to finding the best fit for you," says Annie Reznik, CEO of College Guidance Coach. Along with dozens of other college counselors, she was sourced for this article from Unigo. Her advice echoes her colleagues’ consensus: determine your 3-5 most important characteristics of a college.

As you define these factors, be as specific as possible and assign each one a weight that reflects your priorities. For example, “good vibes” is a vague criterion, while “beachy atmosphere” conjures compelling images and feelings (perhaps you’re even picturing the harborside USF St. Petersburg!) If you live for the water, this could be a huge factor for you. Ditto for things like “granola aesthetic,” “applied research opportunities,” or “within walking distance of tacos.” Everybody wants something different from their college experience, so your process of choosing the right college should be individualized to your tastes as much as possible. This is all about you!

It’s a good idea to consult others around you, too. Ask for their priorities when they picked a college and why. You want to understand their thought process, not be handed a conclusion, so this sort of conversation will be more helpful than asking them to tell you the best school. You might find that your perspective shifts or feel more confident than ever that your priorities are straight.

Enough with the preamble! Let’s get to our list of things to consider on your college commitment checklist.

Consider Campus Culture

How much do you know about the culture of each school on your list? Culture can include Greek life, community service opportunities, the atmosphere of sporting events, pickup games for sports you play, or other popular recreational activities among the student body. It can also include deeply personal values. Are you searching for a college that affirms your religious beliefs, or a student body that shares your political philosophy?

The campus will be the center of your social life for the next four years. Make sure that it’s a place you want to be.

Two women happily writing on paper.

Familiarize Yourself with the Location

Location, location, location! It’s famously the number one rule in real estate, and it’s also top-of-mind for many college applicants. Schools can be in a metropolitan area, like USF Tampa, or part of a “college town”—a smaller city with the campus at its center, dominated by the university population. Resources and opportunities will be different in each, and you may find that a metropolitan campus has a faster, more energetic pace. Is that what you’re after, or are you seeking a more laid-back atmosphere?

Metropolitan universities might have strong relationships with high-impact organizations across the city, securing unique opportunities for their students. Rural campuses will have better access to activities like hiking and fishing to fill your free time. When making your choice, consider where you’d like to call home and the pros and cons of each.

Assess Quality of Life

Do some research into conditions that you will encounter every day. These can include obvious ones, like the quality of the food and comfort of the dorms, but try to think outside the box. How walkable is the campus? Do facilities you value close early? Are there two trees close enough to accommodate your ENO hammock?

Some of this information can be found online or sourced from current students that you know, but there really is no substitute for an in-person tour.

Look for Unique Campus Resources

While many resources will be available at any college you choose, such as a recreation complex, tutoring services, or a counseling center, check to see if any of your potential colleges offer something unique that you’re eager to access. This factor could be a tiebreaker on your list and helps you ensure that you’re getting the best value from your college, experiencing everything the school has to offer from the very beginning.

Talk to Current Students and Alumni

If you’re looking at local colleges or are a potential legacy student, you probably know some alumni or current students already. Speak to them about their experience, focusing on the factors that caused them to pick that school and whether it met their expectations. Be aware that circumstances may have changed over time, though. A university that your uncle attended in 1992 has likely become significantly different since then, for better or worse.

If you don’t have any existing connections, find public social media accounts of current students. Their posts may give insight into campus life.

Remember that everyone’s taste is different. “Experiences are relative and one person’s dream college could be another’s nightmare,” FastWeb reminds us. “A person very different from you could have had a positive or negative experience that you likely would not have.”

Don’t Just Follow Your Friends

Even your best friend! They may just get you, you may be inseparable, and it may be hard to imagine life without them, but that doesn’t mean that their college of choice is right for you. Transfers and dropouts often happen because someone went along with their faves from high school, and the college they chose as a result turned out to be a poor fit for them. Over the course of a friendship, it’s normal for life to take you in different directions. Picking your own school is not a betrayal.

It’s also common for someone to commit to a trendy college and find out that the popular school isn’t all it was cracked up to be. Once again, “one person’s dream college could be another’s nightmare.” Choosing the right college is a decision that’s best made with full attention to your own wants, needs, and goals, not someone else’s—even if that person is special to you.

Account for Academic Quality and Reputation

Some schools have a reputation for quality academics. When a college like USF is inducted into the American Association of Universities, that means something. It speaks not only to the quality of education provided but also the public recognition that comes with it—for the university’s degree-holders, too.

Reputation isn’t everything, though. You should also consider class sizes, faculty, and course workload to find a school that fits your learning style.

Consider Degree Paths

There’s no rule that says you must lock in a major by the time you commit, but many people have something specific in mind based on their interests or desired career. If you’re passionate about receiving a specific degree, this metric will be heavily weighted. Once again, consider reputation: is your school known for its engineering program, marine biology program, theater program, etc.? A degree from a prestigious program may open more opportunities for you later.

If you aren’t sure yet, look at the degrees the school offers to find some that interest you, then consider the academic pathway to earn them. Compare total credit hours, internship opportunities, transfer credits, and capstone projects, along with anything else that might matter over the next few years.

Give yourself options, even if you’re leaning towards something specific. Thirty percent of college students change majors, and 10% do it more than once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Furthermore, over 60% of college graduates would change majors if they could go back and do it all again. Taking a different pathway than you intended is common, so carefully consider how highly you weigh this metric.

Calculate Total Cost

The fact is, the cost of attending college can greatly affect your decision, and tuition is only one part of it. Other direct costs include living arrangements, meal plans, and fees (commonly technology fees and lab fees). You should also calculate indirect expenses, like transportation, textbooks, or furnishing your dorm.

These expenses all depend on the school and the student. BigFuture explains, “These amounts can vary widely based on many factors, including your academic year, how far you live from college, and your extracurricular activities.”

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education has provided an online Net Price Calculator that can help you arrive at a total.

Compare Financial Aid

Each school you’re considering will provide a financial aid award letter that will outline the amount of aid you’ll receive as you pay for college. It may have been mailed or emailed to you, or it may have been uploaded to your student portal. If you can’t find it, each college’s financial aid office will be happy to help you access it.

Consider how many grants and scholarships you’ve been offered versus the amount you’ll have to pay out of pocket or cover with loans. “Grants and scholarships are free money you do not have to repay and are generally preferred,” BigFuture contends. “Knowing the different types of financial aid is essential to successfully interpreting your costs.”

Compare the offers from each college you’re considering to assess which one(s) will be a good financial fit.

Evaluate the Availability of Support

People need different levels of support. You may be highly independent and ready for a fresh start, or you may be someone who fares better when new experiences are grounded by existing connections. Your college decision can be affected by the presence (or absence) of friends and family members around the school.

Even if you are on the shy side, being away from your current support networks doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. Most colleges have resources to help you make connections and feel at home. Ask yourself, “Which school choice will ensure that I have access to the support I need?” After all, maintaining your mental health in college is vital.

Prioritize Student Success

Student success is often overlooked, and we think that’s a mistake. A college can have it all, but if its students aren’t graduating, or are falling behind in other ways, that’s a red flag.

Since 2009, USF has invested significant resources to become one of the best in the nation for student success. While socialization and environment define the college experience, the goal is graduation. Look beyond the benefits. Factor real results into your decision.

Girl studying and taking notes in the Judy Genshaft Honors College.

Attend Events

It’s common for colleges to host various events aimed at persuading prospective students, as well as exposing newly accepted students to campus life. They may also frequently host open house events and informational presentations from admissions counselors. Consider these events a fantastic opportunity to ask questions and review your options in person.

Consult Advisors

Every school has an Office of Admissions filled with friendly people who are excited to tell you about student life. If you’re concerned or perplexed about something, make contact and talk it out. You don’t have to do this alone!

Search Your Feelings

Examining your own feelings can sometimes be the best way to cut through your confusion and choose the right college. Schools each have their own vibes that resonate differently from person to person in a way that’s hard to quantify. You should trust your instincts.

Here’s a good test for a college choice: tell someone else that you’ve committed to a school, then go back and consider the conversation. How did you feel when you told them about your college of choice? Were you proud of your choice? Would they have been able to talk you out of it?

If you’re having second thoughts, go back to your college commitment checklist and put your brain to work once again.

What If Choosing the Right College Is Too Hard?

We’ve explored a whole range of metrics to consider before committing to a school, but you may have gone through this whole college commitment checklist and remain undecided. No worries!

You don’t need to rush the decision, though you should be aware of deadlines. May 1st is billed nationwide as College Decision Day, and it’s the day most colleges expect to receive a response from the applicants they accepted. If you applied early, they may expect an early response in return.

Not choosing the right college is not the end of the world. College transfers are commonplace, so if you make a choice that you’re ultimately unhappy with, there are ways to adapt and help is available. Trust the process, trust the professionals, and trust your gut!

USF Resources Can Help

If USF is on your shortlist, we want to help you! Our Office of Admissions is available by phone or appointment, and if you’re ever around campus, you can walk in.

Schedule a visit today to see if USF is the right fit for you!