For all those who have received acceptance letters, mabrook! For those who yet to receive one, its still early in the game, and inshaAllah your patience will be rewarded.

So you’ve received several acceptance letters from numerous prestigious schools. Each one is better than the next, but you are unsure of which one to choose. Your professor advises you to choose one with research opportunities, your parents prefer for you to pick the one that will leave you with the least amount of debt, and your friends want you to choose one that is closest to home so you can still see each other on the weekends. You are confused and feel like your mind is in a whirlwind. How do you know which school is “the one”?

First of all, you should be choosing a school that tailors to your needs and desires, not what your friends think is best for them. Of course, take your parents’ advice, you know they are the only people who truly want the best for you, and discuss with them the pros and cons of each school. Think of what you want to achieve in your education, and whether this school will help you accomplish this. For instance, if you are interested in wound care, research schools that have great wound or burn centers, or are affiliated with outpatient wound care clinics. If emergency medicine or surgery is more of your forté, then choose a school that is affiliated with a hospital that has a trauma level one ER and allows its fourth years to scrub in during cases. You’ve got to think ahead, and if you are unsure of what this program offers, try to contact some students there or an alumni/resident and speak with them. They’ll answer your questions more efficiently than Google will.

Distance is sometimes an issue, especially if you are a Muslim female who is not comfortable with living alone. That in itself will limit the schools that you decide to attend. If planning to commute via mass transit, have the train and bus schedules out and plan the route. Decide if you will be able to reach campus at 8 AM, or if the area will be safe for you to be walking to the station after dark. If driving, check out the roads and highways and ensure that there will be alternate routes in case of snow or traffic accidents. The last thing you want to experience is road rage or a delayed train the morning of the exam! I have a two hour commute which consists of taking two trains and a car, so I always try to leave early in case there’s a delay or traffic on the way to the station. Its always better to arrive early than late, and it will be detrimental to your grades if you are consistently late to class or enter an exam flustered and agitated.

Last, but certainly not the least, the most important step to take before deciding on a school is praying the Istikhara (duaa mentioned in a previous post). When I was submitting my applications, I visited the open house at my two top schools. Both my mother and I prayed Istikhara before leaving the house. Upon arrival at the first school, we noticed that the area was not particularly inviting. I noted that the nearest subway was approximately two blocks away, and would have a hefty commute trying to enter the city in the mooring. Nonetheless, I did not want to make a decision without evaluating the school first. As I entered the building, I felt a tightness in my chest that continued persistently as the open house presentation went on. Everything seemed wrong to me; the students were prejudiced, the staff seemed unorganized, the building was run down (I almost freaked out then I saw one of the about outdated!), and the program itself was not what I had in mind. By the time we reached the car, we had already reached a mutual agreement that there was absolutely no way that I was going to attend that school.

On the other hand, when I visited the second school, I experienced completely opposite feelings. Again, mom and I prayed Istikhara before heading out to the school. The first thing we noticed was that the commute, although took the same amount of time to reach as the previous school, was significantly easier and smoother. As we entered the building, it seemed to glow and the students were particularly warm while the staff was inviting and friendly. The presentation and discussion of the program tailored to my needs, and offered more than what I had expected. As I toured the campus, I felt a sense of belonging and could easily envision myself there for the next four years. When we returned home, we prayed Istikhara again, and felt a renewal of those good feelings. Several months later, I began my first semester at the school and alhamdulillah, never had a cause to regret it.

There are several factors that you must consider when choosing a school, but the most important part is if you feel comfortable. You’re going to be stuck there for four years, so you better love that place! Put your trust in Allah SWT and it will all work out, but listen to your parents’ and experienced people’s advice because you may think something is good for you, but a fresh pair of eyes can notie something you may have missed. There are many more issues involved in this lengthy process, and if anyone is interested I can post a second part to address those concerns.