Column: The big decision

For the past month, one single, big decision has dominated my life: choosing between attending Rice University or Northwestern University. 

After submitting my college applications in November, I found myself in limbo, waiting an excruciating five months to receive my decisions. Once I did and got into both of my dream schools, I was ecstatic and full of joy — until I realized I now had to pick one. 

I would like to start by saying how immensely grateful I am to have gotten into these colleges. If you had told me at the beginning of my college application process that I got into both of my dream schools, I wouldn’t have believed you. Getting those acceptance letters were some of the happiest moments of my life, and as a result, I faced a massive dilemma in deciding. I kept going back and forth: one day I wanted to go to Rice, the next day Northwestern and repeat. I felt stuck in an endless cycle as I truly loved both universities and could have imagined myself thriving regardless of which I picked.

As a result, although I had imagined feeling ecstatic after getting into these universities, I instead felt overwhelmed by stress and exhaustion. This single decision seemed to dominate every aspect of my life, and I devoted endless amounts of time and energy to debating the decision. What made it worse, however, was the fact that everyone seemed to have an opinion on where I should go and judged me on my decision. My decision was Rice University.

With that being said, I would like to share some general tips on how I ultimately chose one college — especially because many of my friends faced similar dilemmas picking between colleges. 

Application Tips: 

While I’m not going to give in-depth tips on the application process, the one recommendation I will give is joining “r/ApplyingToCollege” on Reddit. The forum has entire pages dedicated to each aspect of the application process as well as tips from college students and admissions officers. Throughout my application process, I spent hours scrolling through these forums to learn about ways to refine my application, and it was immensely beneficial for me.

Visiting the University:

For many people, the best way to narrow down your college list is by visiting colleges and getting to know the vibe of the area firsthand. I know numerous people who loved a college but after visiting, ultimately decided they hated the campus and didn’t want to attend anymore. Visiting truly is one of the most important ways to narrow down your college list, and if students can’t afford to visit, many universities offer fly-out programs for students to take advantage of. For me, although I found both campuses to be beautiful, I liked Rice’s vibe more — something which was important in making my decision.

Opportunities available:

One of the most straightforward ways to narrow down your college list is by focusing on the opportunities available, both in the university and for your major specifically. In my case, I attended numerous college sessions and went through university websites, compiling a list of programs and research opportunities available at each university that catered to my major.

Another important aspect in this regard is the availability of that opportunity. One of the things I didn’t like about Northwestern was the fact that many clubs require an entire application process composed of numerous essays and interviews and only a small percent of applicants are selected. At Rice, however, clubs and opportunities aren’t exclusive at all and are open to all interested applicants, meaning I could get involved easier within the school.

Go with your “gut feeling:”

Ultimately, I would say the most important thing is choosing what you feel is right. Don’t choose another university just because others think you should go there or because it is more prestigious. Choose the one that you’ll truly be the happiest at, because at the end of the day, you’ll be the one on campus for four years, and you don’t want to be unhappy during those years. When it came down to it for me, Rice was the place where I envisioned I would be the happiest.

Although there are many other factors to take into consideration, these are the ones I found to be the most helpful in narrowing down my own decision. The other notable factor is financial aid, but since I got a good mix of financial and merit-based aid from both universities, this wasn’t really a factor for me. With that being said, I recommend people choose the cheapest college to avoid taking out an exorbitant amount of aid. 

Lastly, for rising seniors, I recommend that once you’re accepted into universities to simply create a pro-con list to visualize every factor to take into consideration when making the big decision.