This is my gift to you, high school seniors. In my years of writing about education, editing essays and advising friends and family, these are my five greatest bits of advice for choosing a college.
1. Even if you have a .01% chance of getting in, apply to your dream school.
Maybe you don’t have the GPA or haven’t done enough extracurriculars, but you know deep down in your heart that there’s still hope. Even if you have the smallest chance known to mankind of getting into your dream school, submit that application.
Yes, it costs a little bit of money for the application and some time to gather the required materials. But you’ll go through your life with the “what if?” disease if you don’t apply, with symptoms ranging from wasting time to utter depression. Nip this disease before it even arrives. Because who knows? Maybe you’ll get in. And maybe it will mean having the dream college experience.
Don’t live your life in fear and “what ifs.”
2. If you go the expensive route, have a good reason.
If you end up getting accepted into your dream school or just a really good school, you still might want to reconsider if it’s pricey and you didn’t land scholarships or grants. With the average student accruing $26,549 of student loan debt, according to FICO Banking Analytics, it’s clear that tuition bills will add up quickly.
I have a friend who got into Pepperdine University — his top choice. But knowing he just wanted to teach high school science, he went to a state school instead. He decided paying over $40,000 a year wasn’t worth it since he wouldn’t be making a lot after graduation. Plus, he was still able to get his teacher certifications at a state school, so he didn’t see the point.
If you’re going for a liberal arts degree or a goal that can be achieved at a less-expensive state school, you might want to take that route. Just make sure your priorities are straight and your post-graduation plans allow you to pay off the bill.
3. Don’t choose a college in a city/town you’d hate living in.
As much as some try to deny it, location matters. It affects who we meet, what we do and overall happiness. It’s not everything, of course, but it plays a role. And I’d advise anyone not to go to a college that’s in a town they’d be miserable living in for four years.
And it might not even be just four years. Plenty of students stick around their college town because of job offers or because they meet a significant other. You never know what will happen during your college years. So why risk it? Just pick a college in a city or town you’d be OK living in.
4. Consider college rankings and alumni earnings.
It’s difficult to determine how much college rankings matter.
On one side, highly ranked private schools topped the charts of 30-year student earnings in the survey “What’s Your Degree Worth?”, published by Bloomberg Businessweek. But on the other hand, The Atlantic highlighted a study that showed that two groups of students earned around the same wages: those who went to highly selective schools and those who were accepted into prestigious schools but went to less-selective schools instead.
Which study you put more weight on is up to you. But look at both rankings and alumni earnings because they can help you gauge how valuable your education will be.
5. Don’t go with plan B until plan A truly fails.
One of my friends, discouraged that his plan A would fail, settled for his plan B before his plan A even failed. Don’t do this. Plan A is plan A for a reason. It may be difficult to pull off but if you don’t at least try, you’ll never know and might miss out on something wonderful.
Don’t give up on your dream school until it’s over. Apply to the school and if accepted, do all you can to get there. Perhaps this means spending hours a day looking for scholarships or grants or setting everything up for relocation. Whatever it means, keep it your plan A and fight for it.
Choosing a college is one of the bigger decisions you’ll make in your lifetime. It will affect where you live for the next four years, what kind of job you’ll land after graduation and how well off financially you’ll be after graduation. Choose wisely, my high school friends.
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