There are a lot of good reasons to choose a school, but these ten? They’re the first ones most juniors go to first, and they can make life and a career a lot harder and less interesting.
We often make bad picks due to fear of the unknown, or a search for some camaraderie, community or brand of which one can become a part, belong.
Secret: You belong to any school to which you choose to go. You will find community there. Friends.
Choose to go someplace that puts you on a strong foundation for your life-path. Avoid these TaDa! Ten worst reasons to pick a college:
- My friends have gone there and liked it. – Recommendations always seem like a good starting point. They’re not bad, but, unless you are in the same major/life track, the right choice for them may not be the right choice for you. Are they in your major track? Did they do their homework and check out the faculty, the pitfalls in 101 Freshmen courses, and access to resources? Qualify the recommendations by finding out more about how your friends ended up choosing their list of schools, and then finally decided on that school. Remember that BFFs become BFFHS (Best Friends From High School). It’s not uncommon to find people with whom you were tight in high school a lot less available in college.
- I’m an [INSERT YOUR TEAM HERE] fan – For years, possibly your whole life, you’ve grown up watching the Gators or the Blue Devils or the JayHawks or some other college team on television in basketball, football, etc. You really want to be part of that experience of painting your face and screaming at the top of your lungs. With a few exceptions, like Duke, where the undergrad population isn’t large, or University of Miami, where the the student body is reaching the low end of large, most of the big Division 1 schools are diploma mills. In many departments (majors) of large schools, there are thousands of students to a handful of faculty. Those professors spend more of their time doing research, and working with grad students.
That particular college experience doesn’t advantage you at all unless you are going into a tiny department like, say Geology, rather than the ones most of y’all choose: Pre-law, pre-med, engineering, computer science, etc.If you KNOW you have the networking and emotional skills to navigate climbing over thousands of other students in your department, then no problem. Otherwise you may need to look at a smaller college that fits you better. The name of the game is getting to the graduate level, where your earning power goes up significantly after college.
Our sports suggestion? There are Div 2 and Div 3 schools with great sports programs. Go sit closer to the action and cheer there, OR buy a jersey from one of the large schools and catch their games on TV. Fandom is not a reason to attend a college or university.
- It’s affordable – Cost is a HUGE anxiety with planning for higher education. No question about it.On the other hand, for those for whom that matters most, many more doors are open to you than you think.Don’t immediately assume that a McEducation at a school with 50,000-70,000 people is somehow going to work out for you because they’ve whittled off all but a few thousand dollars in cost.
At some institutions, even with big-ticket sticker-costs, if you have a good Financial Aid package (FAFSA), can provide an education that is far better for the same money. Apply to a financially “safe” school, but do apply to the ones that you really should go to, and talk to the financial aid people about your situation up front.
Be a good educational shopper. No school gives you their final offer when they send the first financial aid package out with acceptances. Haggle, and get a deal that you want.
Scholarships also offset “gap” money, between what a college will pay and what you can afford. NOW, set up a dummy email address on gmail or yahoo or another free service. Use it for Scholarships.com and other services that toss a lot of small scholarships out in tons of email, which is why you want to keep it to an account that you don’t use every day.
Write the essays, and seal up any gaps in your tuition with a few small scholarship awards that will carry you through.
- It’s In-State – There is always a reluctance, in a lot of students and parents, for a student to go to school out of state. The practical issues like travel costs, or prepaid tuition programs are always mentioned, but, the larger fear, often, is that the student will stay close to where they received their undergraduate education, and not come back.The realities are a bit more complicated. If you live in a city/state where the thing that you want to do is a big industry, it might work for you. Going into hospitality in Florida, or the movie business in Los Angeles, or computer science in San Jose or the San Francisco/Oakland area or Pittsburgh, might then make some sense. If, though, you want to go into the amusement park business and you live in Montana, finding a place where you can get both an education and work experience in the field may be a bit tougher.Most of you, ultimately seeking jobs after your education, will only be advantaged if there is a pathway to work for you that is either near the educational institution, or actively works with your institution.
To be one of 200 broadcast news majors at a school in an isolated city with a handful of local television stations, or in a less populous state, reduces your likelihood of success.
Given that robotics and Artificial Intelligence, along with America’s fading ability to be the “home” of big corporates, your prospects are going to change hugely in a job landscape that isn’t at all like one that your parents entered.
You may not just be looking at living across country. Jobs of your time may have you living and working in another country, particularly if you pursue medical or law careers.
- My [parent] won’t let me go that far away – Moms, in particular, seem to think that dragons eat their babies when they go to school across country, or out of country. You get a better ‘bounce’ in geographical diversity, which can also help with scholarship and/or financial aid money, if you look farther away from home.
The career/major that you choose may be best to learn in New York, but it might be that there is better faculty and better money for you in less competitively congested markets. Go to Atlanta, Los Angeles, Toronto, Canada or even Dublin, Ireland and doorways to big opportunities in your field await.
There is also a time/cost/distance myth about school travel. Students in Florida can take a 4-1/2 hour non-stop flight to Los Angeles where the rates, being a large flying corridor are stable and pretty cheap. Fly from Florida to cities on the Eastern Seaboard and you will be connecting through a hub 95% of the time. That’s 5-12 hours for most flights, including waiting time, AND, particularly at many smaller East Coast airports, they know when schools start and stop. Airfares, even in large metros like Boston can soar up 300-600% on crunch days for college students. Don’t gauge your travel in geographical distance, but in hours taken to get to your destination. Also bring some flame retardant dragon-proof clothing. It will all work out.
- I love [TOWN HERE]! – Granted, you have to live someplace for four to six years, and quality of life is a big factor in where you go to school. Some towns, like Boston, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc. have more than a few great options.
You’d be surprised, though, that many schools have a similar, even better quality of life where there are just one or two colleges that are outstanding. Cities like Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Portland (OR), Portland (ME), New Orleans, and many others are great towns to live and study in, and have a lot of the same characteristics. Write down a list of what you love about the town where you think you want to go to school. Do a search of similar cities, and you’ll discover there are a lot more great choices for you. Apply to all of them, and see where acceptances and your open eyes take you!
- My S.O. went/wants to go there. – High school relationships can seem very permanent, but, at least on the numbers, they’re not. WIthout being indelicate, most, sadly, fail. That’s especially true when, as is often the case, one of the significants is a class year or two ahead of the younger partner.
Even when you’re in the same class, it can be a problem. College is a very different place, and both being out on your own, and the exposure to all kinds of new people is part of the “who am I” component of college. Another challenge is getting both members of the couple admitted. Schools do often take more than one student from the same school. If a student lets on, though, that the reason that they want to go there is because their significant other is there, that is the kiss of death on an application. Colleges have a different view of high school relationships, and it usually most negatively impacts women in these equations, even though that shouldn’t be the case.
- My [Relative] Went to School There – If you’re applying for a school, there is a bump-up for being the child of a member of the alumni. That’s the easy part. The harder question: Is the school still the same? Good? Particularly for many parents and grandparents who went to school when colleges that they were 9,000-10,000 students tops, back in the day, that are 27,000 to 70,000 today, or 8,000 schools that are now 21-22,000 in population, the quality of the education that the institution can offer to undergrads absolutely suffers with these ballooning enrollment numbers.
If you went to Brown or Duke or Reed, chances are it’s pretty much the same. We advise parents nostalgic for their college days who are eager for their kids to wear the same college gear, to check out the changes in their schools over 18-30 years since they were there. If the school has changed a lot, then write down what made it right for you at the time. You and your student can look through thousands of other colleges and universities and we’ll guarantee you find one with the size, location, and vibe that drew you to your alma mater.Don’t presume, that a family member being a big donor or an active member of the alumni necessarily helps. One affluent grandfather built a building at Harvard a few years before his grandson was to attend. The grandson didn’t get in! Not all schools pander to alumni relationships.
- [FAMOUS PERSON] Went To School There/Taught There – Schools love to sell their well-known alumni as a pitch to get you to attend their institution. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson went to Harvard, and taught for a time at the University of Maryland. Oberlin College has a book of its famous alumni, including the Charles brothers, who produced the TV show “Cheers,” better known to most parents. Documentarian Ken Burns attended Hampshire College. Whomever taught these people, more than two decades ago, may or may not still be there.Faculties at most college campuses experience turnover that changes them. Don’t go to a school because your favorite TV actor went there. A famous person in your career objective may have had different faculty. Cooper Union has changed over the years, and, in our opinion, not for the better. On the other hand, some schools’ departments are long-running powerhouses. USC or NYU Cinema, Johns Hopkins pre-med, M.I.T. engineering have both the resources and the clout to continue to attract the best in their fields.Study the department’s faculty list in your area of major and read up on the professors teaching there. Are they interesting? Are they doing work in an area that you are passionate about? That is more important, since they’re the ones teaching you. Schools love, in the short answer segment, when you know WHY you want to go to their institution.
- If I go [Here] I will be a lock to do [Career] or get into grad school – While the likelihood of success in certain fields does greatly improve based upon where you go to school, there are other factors that are important to not ignore. The faculty (see above) list should be checked to see who is teaching there. Are they doing cutting edge work or merely hiding in academia? It also has a lot to do with the kind of hard work you’re going to put into your education.People think, if they got into film school, or a conservatory, or even into a good pre-med track, that all they have to do is ride the tide. Having “Harvard” on your resume as an undergraduate is nice, but if you didn’t max your advantage while you are there, it won’t open nearly as many doors as you think.Parents also conflate nameplate with success. That’s more of a graduate school thing. At the undergrad level, in Marine Biology, Boston University and Duke may be two of the best, but Eckerd and the University of Hawaii, Hilo, may, particularly for your interests, be far better. Their faculty may set you up to work with top faculty in graduate school, because of the peer-to-peer connections of faculty at different schools, better than moving from Nameplate School A to Nameplate School B.Hard work with a professor that can mentor you to be a success beats a nameplate in the undergrad most of the time.
Finding departments studying things that rock your world, world-class faculty, and schools where the professors, not some “Career Guidance Office” that knows you from nothing, are your pathways to prosperity and a content career.