“Suffering from success” is what Onkar teased me as I was feeling overwhelmed, stressed, enthusiastic, puzzled, or a zillion ways, struggling to decide between the options I had. Quick on the heels had come the harvest; a multiplicity of admits as I diligently cast my net wide to seek entry into the best programs in the chosen discipline. Jubilation aside, I was faced with the most important choice of all – which admit would be the ticket to my dream career?
This would be one of the most important decisions of my life for the foreseeable future. The fact was that my educational experience would be with me for life, not only as a life experience but also it would make me a part of a larger group of people who would share the allegiance to my alma mater. These people would be authorities in their own right, in verticals ranging from business to politics and the fact that I would share a single trait/commonality with them, depending on my choice of university, was enough to give me a pause for consideration in making the right selection.
Even though I did a significant amount of research when choosing which schools to apply to, now was the time to dig even deeper. Many programs hosted Admitted Student Days (although most offerings are currently virtual), or offered to connect me to current students or faculty members in other ways. I used this opportunity to ask current students what their cost of living is, how available faculty are outside of classroom hours, and their workload. I tried to get a feel for what the environment of the program is: is it more collaborative or competitive? What activities are available to students outside of classes? What are the relationships between students and faculty like? Remember that there are no right answers; only what would fit you best.
Maybe the most important factor for you is a school with a stellar academic reputation. Perhaps you are looking for a school with the resources to help you prepare to enter the workforce. Maybe you just want a school that offers you a fun time. Either way, you are the one that knows what you are looking for! Taking the time to identify the positives of each school can also help you see what matters most to you.
Once you have factored in the below points, in the order stated, you would be in a better position to pick the admit of your choice. And then, once you make a decision, don’t brood over it and worry too much. It’s tough to choose a university after multiple offers have been made to you, especially after you’ve spent a lot of time carefully putting the list together. Have faith in whatever choice you make; everything is going to turn out fine. Whatever happens, happens for a reason. Enjoy the rest of your time with your family and friends, and get started with your visa process and packing.
Ranking matters because higher-ranked schools attract more and better employers – Stanford, UIUC, Cornell, CMU, and Columbia have excellent placements irrespective of global economic factors. You can afford to choose a university with a higher ranking when you have multiple admits. Checking the student reviews of the university is a great way to gauge the ground reality on-campus, be it professors, classes, facilities etc.
Location matters to the extent that if you cannot get into a high-ranked program, prefer a school in a place that has enough good employers around – e.g., Silicon Valley, NYC, Boston, Chicago, Dallas etc., in general. If you are going for a specific field, pick locations that matter to you. e.g. Portland has a huge Intel presence; San Diego has Qualcomm etc.
Do a thorough study before heading to any program. Have a detailed look at what specializations and programs they offer. Make sure the university offers classes in subjects you’d be engrossed in pursuing in-depth for the following years to come. Another way of checking the course catalog is by discussing with students presently majoring in subjects you’re interested in.
What are your post-grad goals?
Another critical factor in deciding between multiple grad acceptances are your post-grad goals. Take a good look at alumni outcomes at the schools that have admitted you to see if they have a track record of placing grads in your chosen field. You can find this information in the schools’ annual employment reports, but don’t stop there. Use a research tool, like LinkedIn, to gauge the strength of each school’s alumni presence in the executive ranks in the field or industry that you aspire to join. If you discover that there are several alumni in leadership positions in your chosen field, that is a great sign. Alumni in leadership positions signify that employers value the degree, but those high-powered alumni might be willing to help you break into the field and mentor you once you’ve been hired.
What program duration is best for you?
You should also consider the length of the program you’re applying to. While two-year graduate programs are the standard in the United States, a 10-month program can be exhilarating and perfect for applicants who don’t want to be out of the workforce for two years or who want a cheaper experience (less time equals less tuition and less lost salary). But it is not suitable for everyone, particularly applicants that hope to change careers or those who want to fully explore the richness of a two-year program.
Extra-curricular activities in the university.
College life is way more than just attending lectures. Though a strong program is crucial in the long term, you don’t have to be totally miserable in the meantime. Make sure that you acquire information either online or as part of the college visit on various extra-curricular activities and groups students can participate in. Beyond a preliminary list of student organizations in the college, it might also be advantageous to get information about annual events. Several colleges and universities organize large events throughout the year that are based on fun traditions or outside happenings. That is super fun to get engaged with as well.
The cost factor.
The college fee is a huge part of what your college experience in the following years might look like. If everything is similar in other categories, expenses can serve as a good push towards one over the other. Take a close look at the financial aid packages you’ve been offered. Some packages cover fees, while others don’t. Similar programs can vary in length, so a longer program may cost more in the long run, even if they’ve given you a higher scholarship. Some packages or stipends are contingent on being a teaching or research assistant, so factor that in as well. Even if cost won’t be the ultimate reason for deciding your final university, it’s crucial to consider it.
Even though it can be disappointing to see that your dream school may be out of reach, laying out the cost of the tuition can help you make the decision. Suppose you realize only one school has all of the majors you are interested in and is located in a prime location. In that case, that can motivate you to find more scholarship opportunities or other ways to cover the cost, like work-study. But if worse comes to worst, a more affordable school could be the perfect one for you.
Consider the campus culture.
It’s necessary to pick a university you’ll truly feel comfortable at for your post-grad career when you deliberate on how to choose between multiple admits. Think about more comprehensive factors such as if the campus is liberal or conservative? Is the college competitive? Are people regularly involved in games? If the university has people from a lot of different parts of the world? How easy is it to get an internship from college? If you’ll be getting enough hands-on, real-world experience? Think about the bigger and weigh some of these elements when deciding on a university. Regardless of the specific reason for an applicant’s final decision, it always comes down to shared values between the applicant and the school. Joining a program and community where they feel comfortable participating in it and can most benefit from these experiences will significantly enhance their experience and career outcomes.
Do your values align?
The ideal grad program will chime with both your long-term goals and your short-term needs, and one of the factors that can be the most persuasive in uniting these elements is values. Which of your multiple grad acceptances do you feel offers the best fit, and where do you think you would be the happiest living for the duration of your program?
You can really shape your outcome based on your own drive, dedication to power networking, etc., but an entire campus culture is much harder to change. From a school’s perspective, they want students who understand their ethos and will be an active part of their student community—in many cases, this leads to better networking and greater results overall. I can’t stress enough the need to speak with current students and alumni before making your decision.
Weigh your options. For some students, it comes down to a gut decision. But for the more indecisive among us, it can be helpful to create a spreadsheet that takes into account your priorities. Here’s a sample one that I made to help illustrate this, but remember, the weight that you give each category is totally up to you, and you may have other priorities that I didn’t even list.
|College A||College B|
|Factor||Score||Weight||Weighted Score||Factor||Score||Weight||Weighted Score|
|Career Prospects||10||10%||1||Career Prospects||9||10%||0.9|
|Community Feel||6||10%||0.6||Community Feel||8||10%||0.8|
|Academic Rigor||8||40%||3.2||Academic Rigor||6||40%||2.4|
|Student Life||8||10%||0.8||Student Life||5||10%||0.5|
By adding the weighted scores together, you should get a total out of ten. In this example, College A scores an 8.3 out of 10, while College B gets a 6.7. Looks like School A is the place for me!
Even though you are the one that is going to college, sometimes it can be helpful to consider the input of others. Your family and friends who know you the best may pick up on different aspects of schools that are compatible with your personality and lifestyle, which can help you make your final decision. As with every major life decision, it can sometimes be helpful to hear opinions from others. But make sure in the end, it’s your opinion that you are paying the most attention to.
Wherever you go, and whichever college you choose, it is going to be a wonderful experience. You’re bound to come across many new people, make some great new friends, try some crazy activities, and explore all kinds of fields. What matters most is that you’re happy with the school you decide to attend. While you should focus on making the best choice possible, don’t stress if everything doesn’t work out perfectly. If you go to any school with a great attitude in hand, you can make it the right school for you. College is the time for you to enjoy yourself and grow as a person; keep that in mind when making your decision. Regardless of where you plan to go further, college is what you make it, and I would advise you to make the most out of it!