How to choose the right college

Frustrated_man_at_a_desk_(cropped)

By John Lee

Someone asks me for my GPA, and I tell them. Their automatic response is to say that I am Harvard-bound. Or Stanford-bound. Or whatever other Ivy League college you could name-bound.

The trouble with this is not that they assume all students with high GPAs and above-average SAT scores will get accepted to these top-notch schools; rather, it is that they assume these students want to attend these schools in the first place, whether they get accepted or not.

As a soon-to-be senior in high school, I must finally being to prepare myself to make that ultimate decision that will decide at least the next four years of my life: where do I go for college? It is a daunting question, perhaps the most important one I will need to answer, until it comes time to find a job or a significant other. Yet, for an issue so vital and imperative, there seems to be too many people who fail to understand how to properly address it.

Of course, I have no real right to claim that I know more than anyone else, since I have not even decided on what I want to major in. But one thing I do know is that choosing a college is not about going to the most prestigious school. If I am going to live somewhere for four years, I definitely do not want it to be somewhere I chose simply because I fit their qualifications.

Choosing the wrong college will cost you. Literally. Sure, Yale is a fantastic school, but with a $60,000+ tuition, you need to consider if paying thousands more dollars will really give you a better college experience. There are so many opportunities to get financial aid, grants, and scholarships, yet even with all the help you could get, the average national debt of graduating students falls in the twenty-thousands, which can take years of employment to pay off. Now, that does not mean a high cost should immediately turn you away from even considering the school, but definitely maintain a fiscal mentality because you do not want to be worrying about debt when you are 27-years-old and looking for a place to live with your spouse and future kids.

School life is now your life. When you begin researching colleges, think of it like you are looking for a new house to live in—because for about eight months every year, for at least four years, you are going to eat, sleep, play, and learn there whether you like it or not. So you better make sure you like it. There is a lot to consider when analyzing a school’s environment: geography, setting, size, extracurricular activities, sports, demographics, transportation, culture. Even how the dorm room looks will play a huge part. It may not seem so, but just imagine how discouraging it would be to wake up every morning in a box that you cannot stand to look at. You need to go to a school that will make you feel comfortable, just as if you were back home—a place where you could do more than just study, where you will find a community of students who share your interests, and where you will not be afraid to explore and discover.

There’s a difference between challenging and implausible. Okay, a majority of us would be unbelievably proud if we opened up a letter from Princeton that began with “Congratulations!” But for that same majority, the high academic standards of such an esteemed institution could really inhibit their growth as a student and individual. We always hear words of wisdom encouraging us to challenge ourselves—never settle for less. Though we do always need some kind of push to get moving, when it comes to college, we do not want to lean too far over the edge of the cliff. Find a school that will require dedication and work ethics, but not to the point that all you will be doing is sitting in your dorm or at the library studying and surviving solely on coffee. Students are often recommended to apply to safety, match, and reach schools (in order of decreasing probability of acceptance). Getting into one of your dream reach schools will feel great, but ask yourself if you are really up for the challenge.

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