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Choosing College

The Five “P’s” of Choosing Colleges

 With over 3,500 colleges and universities in the U.S., deciding where to apply  and ultimately which college to attend can seem overwhelming, especially as you begin your college search. The task can be less daunting if your family agrees on a game plan for sorting out the options. The first step? Deciding what your priorities are for your college search.
For most students and their families, college search priorities boil down to one or more of the “five P’s”: Place, Program, Prestige, Price, and Personal. Let’s take a look at some of the questions you and your parents might ask yourselves in order to weigh the importance of each “P.” As you read through these questions, jot down any answers that seem particularly relevant to you.
Place: Are you dreaming about attending college in a big city? Is staying close to home important? Is a particular part of the country calling you? Do you prefer warm weather most of the year or want to experience all four seasons?
Program: Do you already have a specific college major or career in mind? Are you hoping for strong advising to help you figure out your interests? Do you prefer a school with more flexible general education requirements or a more structured curriculum? Is studying abroad or access to internships critical? Do you need support programs for a learning disability?
Prestige: Are “bragging rights” about
the college you attend important to you? Will you only consider schools that rank high on published surveys?
Price: What is a realistic annual budget for your family for college expenses? Are you hoping for scholarships? Are you willing to take on additional student and parent loans for a more expensive college?
Personal: Are you hoping to participate in certain extracurricular activities such as athletics, music, or Greek life  during college? Would you prefer to attend a religiously affiliated college? Do you want a school where students tend to be more liberal or more conservative, or perhaps a mix? Are there other characteristics you hope your future student peers share?
Do you have preferences about the types of on campus housing available? Do you have other personal needs or desires that must be met for your college experience to be successful?
Once you’ve answered the above questions, you’ll likely find that certain of the “P’s” are more important to you than others. Write each “P” on an index card and then put the cards in order of their importance to you.
If one or more is not critical to you, drop those items from your list of search criteria; while they may end up being items that are nice to have in a college, they’re not ones you need to worry about during your college hunt. Don’t be surprised if your priorities change as you begin to research, visit, and apply to colleges; changing your mind is part of the college search process. As your list begins to take shape, revisit the 5 P’s to evaluate how each college fits your current priorities.
The “5 P’s” can also be a useful starting point for family discussions about college. Students and parents can work through the list of questions individually and create their own ranking of the importance of each “P.” Then, meet with your counselor to discuss how and why you’ve prioritized the five categories. Often, you’ll discover ideas for your college search that you or your parents hadn’t considered before.

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