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As the admissions cycle for the Class of 2026 comes to a close, many students are looking at their offer letters and feeling quite unsure about their next steps. Where should they go? What should they pursue? How can they make sure that they aren't making a wrong choice?

Though I'm now in my third year of college, I still remember these thoughts quite vividly during my senior year of high school. There were just too many possibilities and potential lives that I could lead at each of my accepted colleges, and I wasn't always certain that I was making a smart decision. Thankfully, through various conversations with family and then-current students, I was able to piece together my priorities and see how they would fit into my future life. And during my years at Dartmouth, I've since had the privilege of talking to prospective students and first-years, giving advice on how to navigate the world once you've made the decision.

But all of that starts with this first step of choosing a school, so here is a list of why you should choose Dartmouth if you're in the midst of all this decision-making!

  1. Dartmouth makes you excited to study whatever you're interested in.

This first point doesn't mean that you need to know exactly what you want to major in or do with your life. It also doesn't mean that you need to make academics your entire world while in college! Instead, this point indicates that the school you end up choosing should have the resources, culture of support, and innovation that will make you excited to learn and grow in whatever field you end up pursuing. 

Are you someone who thrives in smaller classrooms or do you prefer big lecture halls like those of European universities? Do you have a very niche interest in recent archaeological digs in the Indus Valley, or are you trying to get involved with the theory of archaeological studies rather than the physical findings? How do you feel about research? How do you feel about being taught by TAs vs. tenured professors? What opportunities can you find on that college's website, and which ones make you excited to participate?

  1. Dartmouth suits your financial situation.

Going to college in the United States unfortunately means a hefty sticker price, and while college is only four years of your life, the debt that you can accrue lasts much longer. Therefore, it is extremely important that the school you choose is a smart financial decision for you and your family.

Does the school have generous, need-based financial aid? What are the earning potentials of graduates straight out-of-school? For students from lower income backgrounds, how are non-academic incidentals covered, like health insurance, internship funding, or even your graduation cap and gown? While the school website can be very handy for this, I also suggest reaching out to current students through social media (as appropriate) or official contact forms to see how they speak on the matter and how finances affect their daily lives. In some ways, I think this point is the most important aspect that I'll cover in this blog post today, simply because worrying about finances can bleed into every other part of your life and tax your available mental bandwidth.

  1. Dartmouth is located in a place that you can enjoy for four years.

The place where you go to school doesn't have to be your dream vacation destination, but it should be in a place that you can enjoy being for extended amounts of time. Think about your daily habits, what you enjoy doing on a day off, and what transportation would look like for you—both daily and getting from home to school in-between terms.

How easy is it to get home after exams or during family emergencies? What happens if you want to run to the grocery store or the mall? Can you do the activities that you enjoy doing, such as canoeing, people-watching, or sampling food trucks? These little logistical things can seem small and silly when trying to decide on where you go to college, but it is precisely these small things that make up your daily life, so think carefully about what you want and what can actually be conducive to your college experience.

  1. Dartmouth will set you up for success.

This is somewhat similar to Point 1, but it is still a little bit different. You should choose a college that you know will support you and give you the resources to succeed both in academics and in your professional life going forward. 

What are the mental health resources like on-campus? How do first-generation and/or low-income students find assistance and community in the ivory tower of academia? What are the reputations of the professors, the general student body, and the alumni network? Are there advising offices for your preferred professional path? What have students in the past said about how their college affected their internship, research, or job searches? 

This point is a little harder to gather information for because a lot of it may seem like anecdotal evidence, but I encourage you to do some research online and scour multiple sources to get a somewhat clearer picture of the environment that you're choosing. If you find conflicting stories, think about how they differ and what sorts of common truths you can pull from them. Not everyone has the same college experience, even at a small school like Dartmouth, so also think about your own personal background and how that might influence the way that you experience university.

  1. Dartmouth is a place that you are prepared to make your alma mater. 

At the end of the day, no amount of research or preparation will make your choice 100% foolproof. There is a chance that you will miss something, that a person you trust may accidentally misrepresent reality, or even that you simply misjudged how important or unimportant something was to you.

So even after all the advice I've listed above, the truth of the matter is that there are very few perfectly informed choices in life, and that's okay! After being a Dartmouth student for three years and talking with my twin sister who goes to a different college, I've learned that the most important thing while choosing a school is your commitment to take advantage of all the resources available, maintain a growth mindset, and make the institution a better place yourself, wherever you end up. This can be a scary choice, and for many high schoolers, it is the first big choice they make where they have to take the consequences alone. But I firmly believe that if you choose and enter a college with this mindset, you will be able to flourish anywhere, Dartmouth or otherwise.

Make a choice out of your excitement for new experiences, trust in the institution's commitment to supporting its students, and your vision for your future. I'm sure you will go very far.

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