The Pros and Cons of Choosing Your College Using the Hat Trick Approach

We have to make many decisions; in fact, research says we make upwards of 35,000 decisions a day. That’s 245,000 decisions a week! No wonder our children have a hard time deciding where to go to college.

Some decisions are easy, like what time you should set your alarm to get up in the morning or deciding if you should grab an umbrella in case the weather forecasters finally get the forecast correct! Then there are some hard decisions, such as what to cook for dinner, whether you should have that extra cookie (the answer is, of course, yes!), or even more complicated decisions, like what college you should attend.

Some of these decisions are based on research (watching the weather app continuously, hoping that the 100% chance of rain for graduation day will miraculously drop to 10%), and some are based on intuition (that gut decision that instinctively tells you what to do). 

For many students, it doesn’t matter how many hours they have spent researching/visiting/talking about colleges; their final decision can be agonizingly painful.

We can use many strategies, games, and tricks to help us make these kinds of decisions. One of our favorites is what we call the Hat Trick.


  1. Write down your choices on equally sized pieces of paper in the exact color pens. 

HINT:  Narrow the choices down to three or four

  1. Roll the pieces into a ball and put them in your favorite hat.
  2. Shake the hat to mix up the paper.
  3. With your eyes closed, pick one of the balls of paper.


  1. Upon reading the choice, be ready to say or write down your gut reaction.
    1. Are you relieved you picked that one? 
    2. Are you upset because you were hoping it was a different answer?

Either way, you should have an indication of your answer. Listen to your gut; it’s your intuition speaking.

With so many great options, making the final decision on that “perfect” college can be challenging. Using the hat trick approach often helps and may give the reluctant decision-maker their answer; however, this approach does come with some pros and cons. So before offering this approach to your child, continue reading: 


  1. It can reduce the pressure and make the final decision process more enjoyable.
  2. It makes the decision-making process come to an end. If this part of the process has been dragging on and your child has made endless lists of pros and cons and still can’t decide, this can be a faster way to the final decision.
  3. It’s a fun and memorable way to make the final decision. And make a great story to tell when asked, “So, how did you pick school x?” “I picked out of a hat!” Seriously, it can create a sense of excitement and anticipation for making the final choice.


  1. Choosing from a hat is not a logical decision. It doesn’t take into consideration important factors for each school, such as academic programs and fit, campus culture, location, or cost. SO WE ADVISE ONLY DOING THIS IF YOUR CHILD HAS ALREADY CONSIDERED THOSE FACTORS.
  2. For some students, this approach may raise even more questions or doubts (what if I still pick the wrong school, what if the paper is wrong, etc.,) so before you try this, make sure you explain to your child that it is just a tool to help them and you will not hold them to the results of the game. If they are still questioning their decision, let them process it without any input. Then, later that day, check in with them and ask them what their gut is telling them.
  3. We (the parents) may react in a way that counters our children’s thoughts. For example, our body language, facial expressions, or even unconscious gasps or sighs of relief can make our children doubt their gut feelings, leading to more stress. So if you know you might not be able to withhold your reactions to your child’s reaction, perhaps sit this game out.


While drawing names from a hat can be a fun way to choose your college, it is important to do your homework and research first. The Hat Trick should only be used when a student is down to their last few choices and is really having trouble with the decision. It’s a trick to use to tap into your intuition, but the decision about where to attend should be well-informed and based on your values, interests, and goals.
And contrary to what many students believe, no college will determine the rest of their life: it’s not “where they college, but how they college” that is important.

Grab the Official Guide to Talking About College with Your Teenager

This guide is full of tips and the approach I believe we ALL need when it comes to talking about college as a family. Trust me, when I say I know because I’ve been right where you are, it comes straight from my experiences!