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How to Make College Decisions in a Pandemic

Uncategorized May 21, 2020

Here's what decision science tells you.

I've been reading lots about decision-making science lately, because these days the tough decisions I advise students and their families about have gotten so much tougher. How do you calm the fear that is clouding your judgement, while also realistically evaluating the best facts available?

Keep reading for the highlights of how behavioral science can help you make good choices. But first, I have an invitation for you.

This weekend, I'm offering a special workshop to walk you through a reliable process to identify your best choice related to college this fall, whether you're deciding where to go in September, or deciding where to apply for 2021. It's $25, and it's worth it. Click here to register for the workshop.

So, what's the best way to proceed with a decision that has huge uncertainty and equally huge stakes? Here's the skinny:

1. Identify the real question. 

Are you mashing several decisions together into one big choice? For example, are you trying to decide if college is worth it at all, while also deciding what to major in, while also attempting to figure out which college is the best place to be during a pandemic? This will make you crazy, and it will be nearly impossible to get a clear picture. 

2. Choose your priorities first. 

Creating an environment for good decision-making requires first thinking about what criteria you will use to evaluate your choices. Do you know what is most important, and what factors are a distraction?

3. Make sure you are comparing specific options. 

You can't choose between vague generalities. Keep working to outline the details of different choices until you are choosing between specific situation A ("I will use savings and a part-time job to start college online this fall at Local State.") and specific situation B ("I will use a student loan to go full time at Fancy U this fall.")

4. Rank the specific options based on your priorities. 

A ranking system is far more useful than a simple "Pros and Cons" list. For each of the priorities you identified, give each option a score based on how well it matches, or helps you to achieve, that priority.

5. Look hard at what you don't know. 

Where are there major uncertainties that could mean your rankings are wrong, or could change? For those big questions, are there ways that you could get more information to reduce the uncertainty? 

6. Get advice from someone else.

When a decision is really important, it's a good idea to ask someone outside your usual circle to take a look at your thinking. Find someone who is likely to have a very different perspective than yours—they can bring new information and ideas to the conversation.

If you want help with your college-or-not decision and application process, you should join us this Saturday for a very special workshop on Gap Years and Setting Goals that Guide Your Choices

7. Make If-Then plans. 

For those uncertainties, play out what you would do for different scenarios. For example, "If Fancy U. doesn't do on-campus classes this fall, then I will give up my deposit and go to Local State instead."

8. Make your best guess, and then commit.

As I say all the time, you don't have to be sure, but you do have to decide! The great thing about life is that if you make a choice you don't like, you can almost always make a new choice later. But success almost always depends on how committed you are, so pick something you can really get behind. 


If you want help with your college-or-not decision and application process, I would love to meet you. Check out our other special programs and coaching packages here, or book a free strategy session with me here

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Wait! This really matters.

Many students end up on a local campus (or one very far away!) by default, because they didn't have the guidance to find a great college match. 

We won't let that happen.