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Making the Right Choice: Which School Should I Go To?

picking the right school

You are rounding the corner on your last year of Grade 12, you have heard back from most of your schools, and now you are wondering – where should I actually go? This is a common dilemma for many Grade 12s. You spent much of Grade 11 and 12 painstakingly researching programs and schools, making a list of programs to apply to and diligently filling out each aspect of your application. You had your favourites, but each of the schools you applied to hold some interest for you -  maybe you liked the campus, or the extracurriculars, or the town it is located in, or if you are lucky maybe you got a particularly good scholarship from one. You have been wrestling with where to actually go, but now the time is here – which accept button do you press?! 

The choice may be between two programs or more. It may be an easy one, or it may be keeping you up at night. You may have started in September knowing it was Option A, but now that you have received an offer from Option B you are suddenly quite torn. This was all theoretical throughout the year – but now that the time has come to make that decision, how can you possibly know what the right option for you is? In this post, I want to help clear the confusion and hopefully release some of the anxiety around this often stressful choice. 

Step 1: Make a Pros and Cons List

I know, I know – this sounds super cliche, but I promise it actually works! 

Write down all the things you like about each school or program, and the things that you are not so pleased about. There is a reason some cliches exist!  This actually often works much better than you might think. By writing down the pros and cons in a list, you can get a visual sense of which school might be better. Is one pro list surprisingly longer than the other? Are there any deal breakers in the cons list? To make the visuals stand out, even more, consider highlighting the pros and cons with green (requirements), yellow (nice to have, but can live without), and red (deal-breakers!). Is there a lot more red than you were predicting? This will also help you clarify your own needs and wants – what is important to you in the school you go to?

Step 2: Make a List of Criteria

Your pros and cons list didn’t solve your dilemma – now what? Write down everything important to you, no matter how silly or superficial it might seem at firstDoes the cafeteria have good foodDo classes need to be close together, or close to where you will be livingDo you hate the idea of morning classes? Can you come home easily on weekends and holidays? How is public transportationWho are the professorsWhat is the library likeDo they have a good hockey team? Make a list of the criteria that is important to you, from the critical to the “nice to have”Then, take your programs and see how many of these boxes they checkUse the colour coding method again here, if that works for youDoes one check a few of your “nice to have” boxes, but is it missing some of the critical piecesDoes one check the important academic aspects, but is it missing the more fun criteriaThis will help give you perspective on what exactly the issue is with each schoolIf you know you like Option A best, but Option B has one thing A doesn’t – can you live without thatOr is there an alternate at A that would serve almost as well?

Step 3: Talk to An Advisor

If Steps 1 and 2 left you just as confused as before, this is the time to talk to someone who knows you well, but who can also be unbiased. This can be a parent or friend, but be careful that this person won’t let their own preferences try to sway you. Talk through your questions with them, show them your pros and cons list and your list of criteria. They may notice something you did not!  They cannot make this decision for you, but perhaps they can give you a perspective that will help you see the situation in a new light. 

Making the Choice

Hopefully, by now you have a good sense of where you want to go. Remember – this choice is yours and yours alone. Do not let others sway you with personal biases – only you know what is best for you. Avoid getting too many opinions, this will only confuse you further. The rule of thumb is two people, in many cases a parent or family member, and your guidance counsellor if you have a good relationship with them, are perfect options. And remember, your gut is usually right! When you go to press that “Accept” button, you will know if your choice is the right one for you. Trust your instincts, and know that you have thought this out carefully. 

One final word of advice: you can always change your mind. This is not the easy path, of course, but if you find yourself in your first year wishing you had made a different choice, there are always ways to transfer schools or switch programs within a school. This may mean an additional semester, doing an online course in the summer, or some other extra steps, but you are never stuck if you know you are in the wrong place. So take a deep breath, and make the best decision you can at this moment. To take a word from Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose!” 

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