It’s the middle of April, which means high school students across the country have less than 2 weeks to make a huge decision: which college to attend for the next four years. I remember quite vividly how I felt during the month of April when I was a high school senior—panic, excitement, pressure, fear of the unknown, and anticipation and hope for the future. I spent weeks agonizing over different options and comparing colleges that, in hindsight, are like comparing apples and oranges. Even so, I learned a lot from the experience and have found that there are different factors students take into account when making this life-changing decision.
- Gut Feeling – By now, you’ve likely visited a college campus or many. If not, now would be the time to take a virtual tour, read up on the college, and perhaps talk to current students. Sometimes it comes down to a feeling that really tips the scales and helps a student decide which college campus they intend to call “home” for the better part of 4 years. It may be because you felt comfortable at the school or felt like you recognized pieces of yourself in other students. Or maybe you can’t explain it—maybe you saw something occur during a college visit that just clicked for you. Whatever the case may be, a gut feeling can go a long way.
- Pros and Cons – Quite the opposite of the gut feeling approach, making a pros and cons list or creating a chart that compares and contrasts colleges in different areas employs a more formulaic approach. This can be helpful in organizing what you’re looking for in a college and what is truly of value to you. Are you looking for opportunities to double major or pursue a minor? Do you thrive in a large classroom setting or prefer more intimate, discussion-based classes? Do you want to be near a city or in a small college town? This method can often help you sort your thoughts and assessments.
- Rankings, Reputation and Stereotypes – We’re all familiar with common stereotypes associated with different schools, however, these stereotypes often miss the mark—by a long shot. I hear students who say they want to attend a “prestigious university” but they are unable to define what makes an institution “prestigious” or how this is going to affect their college experience. Similarly, students will disregard a potential college due to a negative reputation and rumor they believe to be true. It’s important to know your source and find out the truth about any schools you are considering. Just because a college is ranked as a “top college” somewhere doesn’t mean that it’s the right college or best fit for everyone. That includes you.
There are many other factors, methods, and ways to evaluate what college will provide you with the ideal experience. In the end, it’s probably best to pick the school that you identify with in some way.