Choosing which college to attend is one of the most important decisions a teenager has to make . There is so much well-meaning advice , often conflicting , so many considerations to take into account. The choice will determine where students will spend the next four years of their lives and it will be a stepping stone to their future careers. No wonder it is such a stressful time for them ( and their parents ).
The following are my thoughts on the college selection process ; I hope you find them useful.
1 Most students follow the dictum ” Try and get into the best college that will have you and that you can afford’. ” Best” is usually interpreted as ” élite ” or ” the most prestigious” which is why the Ivy League institutions ( and heavyweights like Stanford and Duke) are flooded with applications every year. Parents love to be able to say ” My son/daughter goes to Harvard ?/ Yale / Cornell / –“. Students feel a sense of accomplishment when they are admitted to one of these top colleges and they have a vague sense that it will help them get their career off to a flying start. With tuition now in excess of $ 50,000 a year , it is worth examining if this is really true .
There is no doubt that graduating from one of these élite institutions gives you a certain cachet and makes you more attractive to some recruiters.(This is true but not always . I have spoken to one recruiter who feels that Ivy Leaguers have a sense of entitlement and superiority that does not make them good team players.) In certain fields such as Business, recruiters of the top firms interview only graduates from élite institutions .If you belong to a lesser institution , you won’t get invited to an interview no matter how good you are academically. On the other hand , if you are planning on a career in medicine , an Ivy League degree is not necessary; admission to a medical college is based mainly on your MCAT results and your future success as a doctor will depend on patient referrals and work reputation. In general , if you plan on going for graduate studies ( as an increasing number do) , where you do your undergraduate work is less important ; it’s only the final degree that counts. The smart thing would be to opt for a less expensive four-year college.
One other thing to keep in mind is that academic competition at élite colleges is fierce. You may be the class valedictorian but so are many of your classmates. This is not a problem for those who thrive on competition ; for those who do not , the pressure to keep up may be more than they can handle. Every year , some students drop out of Yale ,Princeton , MIT etc . for that very reason.
If you graduate from an élite college , you will be able tap into the old boy network , many of whom are in powers in the corporate world . As yet, this is a considerable advantage though it is getting less so as the corporate world gets more inclusive.However,educational opportunities at these colleges are not appreciably better , except perhaps in certain fields of study that they are known for.
2. Don’t pay too much attention to the U.S. News & World Report rankings of colleges . These are general rankings . They are not of much relevance if you have already decided on a particular career. In that case, try and find out which colleges are rated tops in your field of study. For instance , if you plan on becoming an engineer Carnegie Mellon may be a better choice for you than Harvard or Yale. If you want to go in for Physics or Mathematics, perhaps you should think of Princeton.
3. The most important thing is for you to determine the type of college environment that best suits you . You will be at this college for the next four years and it is important that you are comfortable and happy in this setting . If your choice of college suits your temperament, it will be beneficial to your academic performance. Happy , relaxed students perform better . On the other hand , if you are unhappy it will adversely affect your academics.
In order to find out what works best for you , ask yourself what you like best and where you are most comfortable. Do you like a small town atmosphere or do you prefer the big city ? If a big city , will you be able to withstand its temptations and concentrate on your studies ? Would you thrive at a small college where you class sizes are smaller and you can get more individual attention from professors? Or will you better off in a large college with a 40,000 + students where you can be one of the crowd ? or Are you OK with the cold ? If not , you should probably drop Cornell and Michigan from further consideration. Do you have any particular geographic region in mind for your post-college career ? If you plan on settling down on the West Coast , perhaps you should consider a college over there , one that West Coast employers are more familiar with . These are the sort of questions you should ask yourself as you narrow your college choices .
The last thing to keep in mind is that, while your choice of which college to attend is important, it is not the only thing that will set the course of your future. A degree from a prestigious college will give you a head start , may give you the inside track in getting your first job out of college . However,after that, the course of your career will be determined by your job performance. If you are good and work hard, you will succeed no matter which college you attended. Keep this in mind when you are making your choice. One student I know , who got a perfect SAT score, turned down admissions from Harvard and other Ivy League colleges because they would not offer him a scholarship. Instead , he went to Duke which offered him a – scholarship . He went on to become a Rhodes scholar and an outstanding success. Another brilliant student I know is enrolled in the Honors Program at Rutgers where he is getting a free ride, an all expenses paid scholarship.
Your college years can be among the most stimulating and enjoyable years of your life. This is the time when you grow, when you expand your horizons , when you discover who you are and what you want to do in life. Enjoy them even as you work hard. I wish you all the best.