I always remember thinking, what’s the big deal, it is only college? These days, it is a big deal, and higher education is a competitive market for your attention. Just remember it is easier to pick a college than the high school advisors, college guides and your parents make it out to be. Relax, take a deep breath and keep in mind these four indisputable truths about choosing a college.
1. A Little Information Goes a Little Way
I was not well prepared for selecting a college. My parents did not properly instill in me the need for selectively and criteria, though they might be surprised to hear that now. All of my peers had dreams of a particular school, or a particular academic reputation, or they aimed for a certain city. I had distances.
The minimum distance was 500 miles from my mother and 500 miles from my father. In order to meet these criteria, the school needed to be somewhere in Nevada, or somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. For the record, the vector did eventually land me at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
But looking back now, I realize that I did very little in the way of research then. I did not know the right questions to ask, much less whom to ask them to. You already have the resources, but you have to do the legwork. Parents are a good start. Assess their expectations, particularly how much they expect to pay. Then set that information aside and start researching specific schools. You should use your guidance counselor as a resource, but do not forget the internet. And pay the campus a visit during the school year.
The only time it does not pay to do the research is when you already know exactly where you want to go, whether it is your only choice, or your parent’s alma mater, or you are going locally. If you do not know, it is always a good idea to arm yourself with as much information as you can. Otherwise you might end up at a university in the Pacific Ocean.
2. Rankings Are Relative
Any college guide would have you believe that their publication, and only theirs, really has the definitive information on a wide swath of criteria to pick a college. Do not believe it. There are two things at stake here to keep in mind. Every college guide has a bias. And college rankings are dependent on that bias.
Take the Harvard University of college guides, U. S. News and World Report as an example. What’s the bias? U. S. News wants to be an elite college guide, the cream of the crop. That means their ranking formula has to be the most complicated, has to utilize the most criteria and they have to devote a whole lot of space to the country’s elite universities. Which is great if you plan on choosing a school based on reputation. But there are other factors to consider.
It is appropriate, a great idea even, to pick up a college guide and review the entry on some of your school choices. Better yet, do it online. Most guides have an online component, and so what if you have to register to view it. You are going to spread your name around liberally during the application process anyway.
3. It is not the size of the school but the number of kids that live there that counts
Let me tell you a little trick when you examine your school’s size. Look strictly at its percentage of students that live on campus. Particularly when you are starting out as a first-year student, you spend a whole lot of time on campus, and most schools require you to live there at least through your first year. The number of students that live on campus has a lot to do with the kind of experience you will have.
I went to UNLV which only had an on-campus population of a little over 1,000 students. That is a relatively small population of students to live among. I looked at the overall campus population, over 20,000 students, and assumed I would be interacting with a diverse group. But the truth was, my social and educational circles were usually limited to the 1,000. Whichever population size you prefer, just remember that commuters are usually significantly less engaged in campus activities; clubs, intramural sports, and social nights.
4. Cost is a hill, not a mountain
If you want to go to college, prepare to take out loans to pay for it. If your parents can afford it and are willing to pay, you are lucky. For everyone else, once you know the school you want to go to, just go. The cost of education is exorbitant and steadily rising. There is no way around it.
Parents look at debt warily, and their opinion is to be respected. But when it comes to picking a college, cost should not be the determining factor. Think of your education loans as an investment in your future. Whatever you invest now compounds in your skill set, your experience and the assets that you develop for furthering your future earning potential.
Picking a college is a process, but it should not be an overwhelming one. Make a list of criteria that are important to you and take that with you on your search. It is indisputably a big deal to choose a college for yourself, but the process has never been easier. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.