10 Ways to Decide Which College to Attend
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
But you might be wondering…how do I make the decision in the first place?
Are you holding fat envelopes from colleges who want the pleasure of your company for the next four years? Lucky you! Congratulations! How do you decide on your college choice? If you haven’t yet, try to visit all of the schools offering you admission. Then, read the following ten ways you might make a decision:
1. Proximity and “In Loco Parentis”
Can you still go home to wash dirty laundry? If not, is there an adult in the area you can go to for assistance if you are injured, homesick, or needing a fix of unconditional love and a home-cooked meal? Another advantage to this situation is you can often talk these adults into giving you a portion of their basement for your unused furniture and clothes during summer break.
Although I didn’t bring home my dirty laundry when I went to school, I was able to get home with a 2-hour train ride, and that seemed close enough for me. My husband and I have functioned “in loco parentis” (meaning “in place of parents”) for friend’s kids and relatives. It’s a “favor” that most adults would love to be asked to do, so see if you can find an adult in the area who will be your friend for four years or more.
2. Friends and Family As Fellow Students
Do you know someone going to that school? It’s good to know a familiar face.
Caveat: Just going to a school because your best friend, boyfriend or girlfriend, or sibling/cousin is also a student there is not the best reason to go to a school. Friendships come and go, and can also end up being unhealthy distractions or competition. Having said that, I personally transferred to a school because my boyfriend was attending the University of Michigan, from which I have attained a B.S. and an M.S.W. degree. My boyfriend? He is my husband now, and we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary last summer. So the moral is be ready to transfer or ignore an ex if you break up, and be ready for a relationship to grow as well.
3. Family Tradition
Did someone you know tell you to attend a certain college because everyone in your family has?
I work with many students who say, “My family has always gone to the University of Pickles and I’d like to go there too.” This is not a particularly good or bad idea. Not letting down your family—by becoming the first family member ever to flunk out of the University of Pickles—sounds like a motivator to succeed.
Caveat: Is the school strong in the subject matter you are interested in? Look closely at the courses offered that excite you, and ask around about professors that other students love in the subjects you find exciting. Ask the admissions office for the email address of a friendly student who has the major you are interested in, and ask him or her all of your questions. Make sure you’re picking the best school for you, not the best school for your mother or father.
4. A Prominent or Popular Professor
This was my own personal reason to attend the school where I received my MFA, and also had a big effect on the school that I applied to for my MSW. Knowing an instructor you admire is a great place to start when making a decision about the best school for you. It only takes one person to change your life with their enthusiasm for a subject, igniting the fire within you for the same topic.
Caveat: Not all professors are brilliant speakers and friendly too. That’s OK. You may not care to chat with a professor after class. The goal is to attend college with reasonable expectations. Check out sites like ratemyprofessor.com. Find a school that will work for you.
Hint: If you know a professor you are interested in studying with, mention that person’s name in your college-specific essays, such as these for the University of Michigan. A name and awareness of a particular instructor shows the college you are focussed and have already begun to perform in your chosen area of study.
5. College Ranks High on “The List” (Such as U.S. News and World Report)
Is the school seen as being “the best” or “high on the list” in an area you want to study?
Attending a school that ranks high on a list (such as an Ivy League school) is no guarantee that you will be successful later in life. For example, 30–38% of the CEOs of the Fortune 100 Businesses and Fortune 500 Businesses respectively have attended Ivy League Schools.
Another way to look at this topic is FIT. A guy who is scrawny, loves chess, and is socially awkward may not realistically set his sights on taking the buxom, cheerleading captain/class president to the prom, because she may not have much in common with him, and visa verse. This analogy can work for choosing colleges. My colleague, John Boshoven, uses the FIT analogy for colleges as it applies to why you love the shirt you are wearing: Is it fun and interesting? Do you enjoy it, was it the right price, is it easy to maintain? Consider a school’s fit for you before you automatically head for the Ivy Leagues or colleges ranking high on a list.
“One of the main factors in a school’s rank is how highly officials at peer institutions and secondary-school guidance counselors esteem it. But they may not know it well. They’re going by its reputation, established in no small part by previous U.S. News evaluations. A lofty rank perpetuates itself.” —Frank Bruni , who believes that college rankings are a joke.
6. Good Fit
Did you get the feeling that “I’d fit in here” when you visited the school and talked with people? If so, that’s a good thing.
Some students use the “fit” feeling in their college application essay. Many of the strongest college-specific essays relate to who you have talked to at a school, and why you feel a school is a good fit for you. For example, here is a short essay that talks about the fit of Yale for a student named David Roosth.
“Why Yale” by David Roosth
Upon a recent Yale visit, I conversed with a Yale senior in the admissions office about his experiences. He had only two complaints about the university: there were too many student protesters, and the university sands the roads instead of salting them in the winter. I love that Yale is a place where the students are motivated to change the world, and the faculty encourages them to act. Sanding saves the environment. What annoyed this Yale student impresses me.
–from Fiske: Real College Essays that Work
7. Surprise! Your Stretch School Admitted You
Are you considering a “stretch school”—where your grades and SAT scores are not as high as many of the other students there—but you know you THRIVE when in challenging situations? If you love being the underdog and tough challenges rev you up rather than wilting you, then consider attending your stretch school. Just remember to think back about situations in which you have been successful. What worked for you? If you crumble under pressure but thrive when you are a big fish in a small pond, maybe your stretch school isn’t for you.
8. A Strong Program in Your Area
Consider a school that has strong programs in areas you are interested in, such as vocal music, computer science, or psychology. What makes a strong program? Longevity. Number of classes. Classes that are taught in a way that fits the way you like to work (Labs, large lectures, discussions, independent study, many tests, few papers, few tests, group work, etc). Prominent professors. Businesses recruiting graduates from a program, meaning good and plentiful jobs at graduation.
9. Extracurriculars That Make Your Heart Sing
Is there an extracurricular activity at the school (singing in the acapella choir, riding for their equestrian team, writing for their newspaper) or a building (doing research in a museum, joining a fraternity or sorority) that you want to be part of your future? The extracurricular may eventually become as unimportant to you as your bicycle’s training wheels, or as important to you as the favorite necklace you wear every day. No way to know right now which it will be. But look at it this way, if you were to imagine your life in the next five years not having spent time with this activity, how would you feel?
10. The Price is Right
Some parents find they don’t receive the financial aid they were counting on. You may not choose to have student loans. Loans can take years to pay off. What are the options? Attending a Community College for two years and then transferring to your dream school is one option. If you choose to get student loans, this article in the Credit Union Times and this guide provide more detail about how the loans are serviced.
Caveat to Parents. This CNN story suggests one way that students can pay off their loans faster is to live at home. If this is not a strategy you endorse (“Once you move out to college don’t expect to come back home to live”), then consider other options. Since the cost of college is such a huge topic, there will be an upcoming blog on this topic.
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