Again, a guest post from my friend, Whitney Doubleday. Unfortunately, she has made some of the most common mistakes in choosing a college. She does not mention that you should not choose a college based on mascots, but that may also be a bad idea. In the interest of full disclosure, I personally have nothing against J. Crew.
Picking a college is hard. I know this. I have picked a few colleges in my day. I have transferred from a couple of these colleges as well. To say that the process can be challenging/frustrating/stressful/make-you-wanna-cry-sometimes is generally an understatement. My theory as to why this decision is so hard is that there is no magical formula where you input various facts about yourself like your height, your dog’s middle name, and the color underwear you are wearing to give you a black and white answer about which college would be best for you. With the number of transfers each semester, the fact that there is no magical formula is obviously an issue. Someone should really quit being lazy and invent one. Although I can’t give you a formula, I can give you a few things that are good to think about when beginning to look at colleges.
1. Make sure you like the location of your college.
This feels like it doesn’t really need to be explained much more than what is directly above, but for those of you who need things to be spelled out for them, here we go. This is important because you will be living here for the next four, or possibly more, years. You should like where you live. The end.
2. Don’t pick your school based solely on location.
I did this once. Immediately upon graduating, I decided the best place for me would be where I could continue to work with my horse trainer and ride horses. Luckily, there was a college about ten minutes down the road from my trainer. Unfortunately, this was a very expensive private college. Being really, really smart, I decided that money didn’t really matter. Really expensive? No problem! That’s what student loans are for, obviously. This would probably be an appropriate time to mention that when you have just graduated and you often feel like you are invincible and debt doesn’t seem all that real. The reality of it is, you are not invincible and debt is real. I discovered the first thing after breaking my leg a month into freshmen year. I am discovering the other right now every month when bills arrive addressed to me. I went to this college for two years and loved the opportunities its location afforded me, but I really didn’t like the college itself. It wasn’t my style. There were too many girls wearing J. Crew and too many boys wearing Dockers. What life-loving eighteen-year-old wears J. Crew? I mean really. I became miserable and transferred. Pick a college because you like the college as well as the location. This brings me to my next piece of advice.
3. Make sure the college fits you.
All colleges have a certain “feel”about them. This “feel” can make you make you really excited about the prospect of going there, or it can help you decide that another college is probably the better choice for you. Start by looking at colleges’ websites or talking to people who you know who have gone to the colleges you are interested in. If you think any of these colleges might be the right one for you, schedule a day, or days, to visit the colleges that you like. Not only will this allow you to see the campuses firsthand which will allow you to get a “feel” for the college, but you will also get the day off school to go. Most college visits are done during the week when classes are in session so visitors can get the full effect of the college. When you get back from your visit, your teachers will be excited that you are taking such an active role in planning the future of your education. This will come in handy when senioritous kicks in. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. Except for that one kid who reminds the teacher about homework and quizzes. This kid thinks that he will get farther ahead in life because of his love of schoolwork, but it will catch up with him. Wait for it. After you have gone on a college visit, you should have a pretty good idea of what it’s all about. As I have stated before, you will either have a good feeling or a bad feeling about it. Do not ignore this feeling. It is trying to tell you something. It is your friend.
4. The college should fit your life goals.
While the college should fit you as a social being, it is important that the college you choose will be able to foster your academic goals. This shouldn’t really be a problem to find, as most institutions of higher learning tend to have a few academic areas in which they have especially strong programs. While this is true, it also helps if you know what you want out of life career-wise. This will help to guide your decision immensely.
I believe that our education system is very efficient at preparing students to be successful in college, but one aspect it is lacking is exposing students to all of the career options possible. I came out of AP Statistics knowing how to calculate if a study was significantly relevant, but I had no idea how that would be useful outside of a classroom setting. In other words, the education system gives us the tools, but as students we have to take responsibility to be proactive and explore different avenues.
If you aren’t sure about a certain career path, you can usually do a little job shadowing. In case you don’t know, job shadowing is when you spend time with someone at his or her job. During this time, you will learn more about what is required of people in this particular field on a daily basis. This can help to answer questions that you might have about the job, helping you to decide if this is something that you would like to further pursue. Once you have even a vague concept of what you would like to be when you grow up, it will help you narrow down your picks.
5. Use your resources.
Do you know what might be the coolest tool ever in the entire world? Google! Google is the lazy man’s first world encyclopedia. Google can pretty much tell you anything and everything, which I’m sure you already know. In fact, while I’ve been writing this, I have Googled at least five words in here to check the spelling. Other than sweatpants, Google will be your best friend in college, but start getting better acquainted with Google now! Use Google to look up different ways you can use your interests in different careers as well as tell you just about anything about any college that you’ve ever wanted to know. One of the best things about Google is that you will end up learning about careers that you didn’t know existed while looking for information about other career paths as well as crazy college legends that may or may not be true, but are still pretty fun to read.
Also, one of the best sources out there is other people. Talk to people. Ask about their experiences at the college(s) they attended. What were the people like? Were the classes big or small? What were some things that they liked and/or disliked about it? They can bring your attention to things that only someone with firsthand experience at a particular college could. A two-minute chat with someone could pique your interest in a certain school or save you from wasting your time with a campus visit.
Not to be forgotten, school counselors are extremely valuable sources of information about careers and colleges. They help people think ahead about their lives. It’s kinda their specialty. It’s what they do. Plus, if you forgot the read the SparkNotes the night before the quiz for My Brother Sam Is Dead, you can always meet with the counselor during English.
All in all, college is a really big step and choosing the right one is important, but you have lots of time to make that decision.
You’re still middle schoolers. Don’t get too stressed out about it, but definitely start to think about what you might be looking for in a college. Looking back, I wish I would have Googled more relevant stuff or maybe even talked to my school counselor. My school counselor seemed so weird though. In hindsight, she was most likely okay. It’s probably the same case with yours. She seems weird, but I bet she’s pretty normal deep down.