The Old Well on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
There are thousands of colleges in America alone. Not many other decisions you’ll make in your lifetime will grant you as many options.
While this can confuse even the most decisive of folk, it especially stresses out indecisive people. How does one even narrow that list down?
Here are three tips for choosing a college for those who can’t even decide what to eat for dinner.
1. Thoroughly consider all possible options
While some people may prefer to make decisions quickly and not let them linger, there’s a good case for deciding slowly. In an article for Inc., writer Jessica Stillman summarized a book on decision-making by Duke and Stanford professors, brothers Dan and Chip Heath.
“The goal, in other words, isn’t to go fast and eliminate options,” Stillman wrote. “It’s to slow down and add them. So how do you accomplish this? The key, the authors say, is taking the time to gather information and alternatives. Using devil’s advocates, asking people who have solved similar problems, gathering relevant statistics, and soliciting the advice of friends and family members can all help.”
You read it correctly: Add more options.
According to Stillman, the reason for adding more options is to not get locked into one or two alternatives. In your college search, it’s not between you going to college A and not going to college A. You have options. By adding even one more alternative to the college list you already have, you may very well decide better than the person with only one alternative.
2. Listen to your body
Decisions aren’t all logical. After analyzing your college options logically, it’s time to appeal to your emotions. According to executive coach and management consultant Dr. Steven Berglas, your gut is savvier than you think and you can often trust it.
“What you refer to as ‘your gut’ is actually a wealth of knowledge marbled with empirically validated facts that you aren’t in touch with at critical crossroads,” Berglas wrote in Forbes.
In an article for Oprah.com, life coach Martha Beck wrote that our bodies “patiently persist in telling the truth.” To listen to your body in decision-making, according to Beck, remember the feelings and sensations of the following four situations:
- A time you said yes to something and later regretted it.
- A time you said no to something that you later wish you would have accepted or said yes to.
- A time you said no to something that you later felt relieved about turning down.
- A time you said yes to something which turned out to be an excellent or at least positive decision.
According to Beck, “Generally, the sensations of an unwise decision will be consistent, whether your choice was yes or no. A wise yes or no will also have a consistent ‘body truth.’ Focus on these sensations until you can tell them apart.”
Of course, your emotions can’t always be trusted, which is why you should balance them with logic. But these gut feelings can often point you in a good direction when deciding on a college.
3. Don’t be unfair to any school
Sometimes when we’re trying to make decisions of what appear to be equally valid options, we’ll let one minor nuisance eliminate an option for us. Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at The Derryfield School, urged not to do this.
“It is easy to let one interaction or one rainy day sour your impression of a college,” Barnard wrote in the New York Times. “As you weigh the pros and cons of each institution, keep in mind that it rains everywhere and that one individual does not represent the entire school.”
It’s tempting to eliminate schools in this way or let a school rise above the rest for a totally arbitrary reason, but it’s not wise — not even for an indecisive person who has tried both the logical and emotional paths to deciding on a college and is still confused. It’s not fair to yourself or your future college.
As you begin preparing to apply to colleges on your list, remember: You’re not in this alone. Reach out to college counselors, friends, family members, school websites and the Internet for advice. Don’t be afraid to add more options and listen to your gut if your mind fails you.
The only truly tragic decision you can make is to not choose at all. College has several benefits. Don’t let your indecision get in the way of reaping them and having the best college experience you can have.
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