If you’d asked me a year ago where I would end up for college, I probably would’ve shrugged my shoulders and told you I was “still figuring it out.” I have a habit of putting off things I don’t want to deal with till the last minute. This includes large life-changing decisions like choosing a college.
I started the college touring process quite early on in my high school career. My first college tour was the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the spring of my sophomore year. With the actual work of applying for college far on the horizon, I soaked up all of the information I could, and fantasized about being a college student. During the campus tour, we walked around hitting memorable locations such as the Du Bois Library, Old Chapel, and Rec Center. We got a look at dorm life in Central Area, and ended the tour with lunch at Hampshire Dining Commons.
Going into the touring process, I didn’t know what I wanted out of a college besides a good education. I didn’t have any preferences regarding school size, location, distance, etc.
First impressions are so important, and colleges want to make sure you get to see everything they offer. Touring UMass Amherst was the first step for me in starting to narrow down my preferences, and was my first taste of the college experience. You often hear the joke that UMass is like it’s own city. With an undergrad size of 23,000 students, the university is roughly double the size of my small hometown. While this may intimidate a lot of people, my tour guide said something that struck me as very meaningful. She told our group, "I wanted a school I could grow into, not out of." This was ultimately one of many deciding factors for me when in the end I chose UMass Amherst.
The summer between sophomore and junior year I toured some more schools in the Boston area. The touring process continued over school breaks during my junior year, and into the summer between junior and senior year. In total, I toured 11 schools.
Looking back, the amount of college tours I did seems absurd — but at the time it really helped me gain a feel for what I liked and disliked in colleges. I visited everything from small private colleges to large public universities. I decided I wanted to be within driving distance from home to save money on plane tickets when I wanted to come home for holidays and breaks. I toured all around the east coast: down to the University of Rhode Island and up to Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate NY. I ate at almost every dining hall, signed up for dozens of newsletters, and received lots of free college merch. I don’t recommend signing up for every newsletter possible, or else you’ll still be dealing with them a year later (I speak from personal experience).
The Application Process
By the end of the summer, I’d cut out some schools that I definitely knew wouldn’t be a good fit. I ended up applying to 11 schools. Not all of them were the ones I’d toured, and I’d added some that I’d heard about online or via word of mouth. Most people I’ve talked to applied to 6-8 on average, so while 11 was on the higher end it wasn’t unheard of.
I applied to a lot because I wanted to see what my financial aid would look like, and all schools were still serious contenders. Lucky for me, every school I applied to used the Common Application. This saved me a lot of time during the application process, and about 75 percent had additional supplement essays or short answer prompts. Spacing out the supplement work made the process seem less overwhelming, and more manageable.
I applied for early action for the schools that had this option, and did regular decision for the rest. I did not want to do any early decision because that is a binding commitment, as I didn’t have my heart set on any school at that time.
The Waiting and Acceptances
The waiting process was probably the most suspenseful. A lot of colleges sent out emails with the estimated date and time actual decision letters would be out. I got all of my acceptances by early February, giving me three months before the May first decision deadline to make my final choice.
I attended a handful of accepted students days to get a better feel for what living on campus would be like. Unfortunately, I had a conflict and was unable to make the accepted students day at UMass Amherst. Instead I attended another campus tour, since It'd been over a year since I’d previously toured the university. This allowed me to reassess the campus with fresh eyes as one of my top schools.
I highly recommend attending accepted students days for your top choices. The accepted students days I attended provided me with a more in-depth experience; allowing me to get a better feel for life on campus, and the strengths of each school.
I ended up with six offers and narrowed down my schools from there. UMass Amherst was always one of my top, and I spent the last month deciding between it and the University of Vermont. In the end I chose UMass Amherst for a number of main reasons.
The Isenberg School of Business at UMass Amherst has a great reputation, and variety of major options. By the end of my college search process I knew for certain that I wanted to study Hospitality and Tourism Management. This is a major that not all schools have, and while it’s becoming increasingly popular, a lot of the other schools I toured did not offer this as a major.
The study abroad options. One of the main things I looked for in a school was a wide range of study abroad opportunities. UMass has study abroad opportunities on every continent except Antarctica, and over 70 campus-sponsored programs.
Being in-state, the value really outweighed the costs and will save me from being in massive debt. Student loans are still in my future, but will be money well spent — and be a lot lower than if I’d attended a school out of state or private institution.
The “vibe” UMass Amherst gave off. First impressions are everything, and when I stepped onto campus for the first time I instantly got a good feeling about it. The more I interacted with others who went to the university, and talked to others about the school, the better it got.
The passion. UMass Amherst alumni and current students all shared the same passion and love for their school. Whenever I mentioned the university as a potential option, currently enrolled students were always eager to help me out — and took lots of pride in their school.
I didn’t officially commit to UMass until a week before the May 1 deadline. At the beginning, I predicted I’d be one of the first to commit and end up sitting back watching my friends panic last-minute making their choices. In reality, I was the one panicking last-minute.
In the end I’m very happy with the choice I made. The biggest piece of advice I’d give to those struggling to decide on what school’s right for them is to remember that your experience is what you make of it. College may help provide you with the tools to succeed, but ultimately it’s up to you to utilize what you’re given. Go with your gut and remember what’s most important to you when looking at schools.