As you are sitting and sifting through the hundreds of pieces of mail sent to you from every educational institution this side of the prime meridian you begin to sweat and your hands shake. “Its not that big of a deal which school I choose,” you think, “After all its only the ONE decision that will determine EVERY PROCEEDING MOMENT OF MY LIFE”. Now the shaking has become a generalized tremor that seems to pervade every cell of your body. The pressure! Its too much! Maybe I should just start an organic kale farm and forget all about it.
Take a breath friend; the process of choosing a school can seem a daunting one, but it doesn’t have to be quite the herculean task it seems to be. There are really just three questions you need to ask yourself which will eliminate a huge amount of stress and aid in narrowing down your decision:
- What do you want to study?
- What size school are you looking for?
- What ELSE are you looking for in a school?
By answering just these questions we can narrow down our choices SIGNIFICANTLY. Lets start with the first question. The college rating system is useful for general rankings of schools, but many schools that have extremely impressive pedigrees may not have what you are looking for. When I was touring a top ranked Ivy league school as a prospective student, I was wowed by many aspects of the institution, but it didn’t have as strong a music criticism department as other schools I examined and I knew that I wanted music to be a part of my collegiate experience. This was a fantastic school, but didn’t fit my needs. Make sure that the school you choose fits YOU.
This leads us to the question of size. I ended up going to a big state school, which was great in some ways, but challenging in others. I studied Biology and Music, and the Biology department, though reputable, was enormous. I had nearly 400 students in all of my core classes! This didn’t fit my needs. Some students thrived in this environment, but I desired more intimate contact with the professor. Size is important, especially the faculty to student ratio. It also varies depending on the department. My music classes were extremely intimate, and I received all the individual attention I desired.
The final thing to consider is what else you are looking for in a college. A college is an ecosystem that is full of student organization and pursuits outside of academics. Student engagement with school sports, humanitarian clubs, or performance based groups ends up being one of the most enriching parts of the experience. If you love performance, find a place that will let you participate in that along with your academics. College is not just about studying within your major, it is an introduction to being a citizen and an adult. Find the place that will give you the tools to thrive.
The good news in all of this is that there are likely a number of places that will fulfill all of your needs, so trust your instinct and go with the place that feels right for YOU. One thing that always helps is visiting the college campuses you’re thinking about. If you have the ability to do this, visiting the schools generally gives you a pretty good idea of whether or not you can see yourself there.
College, like everything else that is worth doing, gives back what you put into it. The best way to make your college experience worthwhile is to develop a love of knowledge and pursue the things you are passionate about with gusto. Extreme exigence in a college setting will prepare you for exigence in the pursuit of higher degrees, careers, and engaging with the fascinating world we live in. So find the place that works for you, and work for it!
Good luck friends!
David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy.