As you are sitting and surfing through the seemingly infinite educational institutions to which you could send the credentials? It is easy to descend into a full-fledged panic attack. After all it’s only the ONE decision that will determine EVERY PROCEEDING MOMENT OF your LIFE. Take a breath, friend! This decision, like many others that determine your surroundings for a period of time, is important. But before you get so stressed you decide to ditch the whole process and start a new life for yourself in Malaysia (a tempting place to start a new life, take my word for it), ask yourself these questions and know that any experience is very much what you make of it.
1. What do you love? Study what you could imagine focusing on for four years (and then however many after).
By answering just this question you can narrow down your choices significantly. The college rating system is useful for general rankings of schools, but many schools that have extremely impressive pedigrees may not have exactly 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. 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. It is worth noting that those who go to Ivy league schools do have a higher chance of securing high paying jobs after school, but other than that, there isn’t a huge difference between the success of college graduates from non-ivy league universities. This is not to say all universities are created equal, it is really to say that people can make their experience work for them especially if there are faculty members within a field that they can work with on a one on one basis. The job world is very much about relationships. Having someone to give you work experience in college and who can recommend you for a job later is of the utmost importance.
2. What are my long term financial considerations? Understanding the burden of debt can be difficult.
The average cost of a public four year college is around $88,000 whereas the cost of a private college is somewhere the neighborhood of $160,000 with the most expensive schools being around $250,000. That is a lot of candy corn, but it has also been calculated that the earning potential for a college degree, as compared to a high school diploma, can be in the millions (sometimes, maybe). The problem with all these numbers is they are too vague and their scope is too broad. Will a person studying philosophy at Princeton who becomes an adjunct professor after 14 years of school earn more in a lifetime than a person who goes to a state school and studies internet security? Who gets a better return on their educational investment? Do both of these people have happy lives? Will they find true love? There is short answer to all of these: We don’t know (for those last two I REALLY don’t know). So does this mean only apply to cheap schools? Or don’t go to college?!?! Not at all! What it means, is that you and your family need to take a look at what you are hoping to pursue and make the right choices FOR YOU! If you are considering business or law school and Harvard is within your reach, the money you spend there will likely be a great investment in your future, but if you are considering being a writer, maybe consider something that is more affordable (the average writer makes about $55,000 a year which means $200,000 is four full year’s salaries). This is not advising you to stop dreaming and never achieve at the heights you believe are possible. To the contrary, if you know you are supposed to go to Yale then get there! But before you do, make yourself such a competitive applicant that you will be able to get grants, scholarships, and financial aid to avoid allowing that dream to crush you with the reality of an untenable debt load.
3. What else are you looking for in the next four years of your life?
The final thing to consider is what else you are looking for in college. A college is an ecosystem that is full of student organization and pursuits outside of academics. Many student’s engagement with school sports, humanitarian clubs, or performance based groups ends up being one of the most enriching parts of their 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 instincts and go with the place that feels right for YOU. 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. College demands will prepare you for the exigency 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. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.