Everyone talks about finding a college that fits. What does that really mean to a high school student anyway?
Those of us who have been around a while we have been counseling students on the importance of “fit” for a very long time, this includes how did it feel when you visited the campus. But how much should the feelings and fluff of this matter factor in today as in the days before college fitness centers and food courts?
Times are changing. Expectations are changing. College isn’t cheap! So as a consumer of education we must start to redistribute the attributes we consider important in the college search process and talk about “fit” differently.
I do believe that the prospective college student can feel comfortable at any number of different schools. Sure, size and location are still important factors to consider as many students prefer small, intimate classes versus large lecture halls and perhaps an easiness to come home location when they need/want.
However, in many other ways, ways that used to make a college or university stand out, one is now confronted with the “vanilla-ness” of the typical campus visit. Everyone has the same diverse student body…everyone has the same overly enthusiastic tour guides who give a prescribed tour and walk backwards like a pro. There is the same freshman orientation…the same get invited to the President’s home for dinner…the same Study Abroad options…the same ivy-covered buildings…and the same “you can start any club you want here”. You get the point.
Apologies for the drab view of the college visit, perhaps I have been on one too many at this point. But because of this I can say not much has changed in terms of improvements and marketing, and it getting harder to distinguish between one slick website versus another. Thus I caution you to get smart and really strive to understand what the ROI (Return on Investment) is on that $70,000/year tuition bill between school A versus school B.
So how can you truly distinguish between one college and another these days?
Most importantly, and you should have been doing it since Day 1, research in depth what it is you would like to study. Isn’t this, in fact, the reason your mom and dad are willing to shell out $70,000 – to give you a good education so you can in turn get a good job and lead a successful life. They are not paying the bill to give you the fluff.
But it does require that you do your homework; advance passed the frontline, and become an educated and savvy consumer of education. Unless you hire an expensive private college counselor to do all the legwork for you, there’s no one but you. And with the high price tag of college these days a bad choice can be financially painful in the long run. There’s simply no way around it.
Learn more than does a school have your intended major.
Let’s take Business for example. Although one finds Business majors and schools typically in the larger universities, there are many liberal arts, or smaller colleges that have Business or some facsimile of Business offered in their course catalogs. But not all Business majors or schools are created equal. The differences can be significant, and you do yourself a great disservice to not explore them more fully.
Here are some questions to pose the next time you visit a college either in person or simply through its website.
Do you know if you will graduate with a BA or a BS degree?
Do you know what the difference is between the two degrees?
Do you know if/where/when you can do an internship or Co-op?
Or what the graduates do upon graduating?
Or can you matriculate as a Pre-Business major and then “re-apply” as an upperclassman to the complete the degree?
Is there an interesting variety of majors offered in the Business school?
Are there a few that peak your interest in particular?
And why do you like certain Business majors over others?
Ok. But what if you don’t know what you want to study yet?
We can rightly assume that you can probably at least go so far as to acknowledge whether you are more of a English/humanities type of person or the science/engineering type. Start there. Look at all the related majors in your scope of interest, look more deeply at the particular courses offered in one major versus another, and pay attention to which courses, majors, schools you get most excited to study in.
Simply spending more time researching the educational opportunities at your preferred colleges and being able to articulate them when someone asks why do you like this school or that will take you far and help you feel much more confident with your college admissions process. It will help you prioritize your list of schools, answer the why do you want to go to my college essay in the college applications, and eventually help you decide where to go.
You are in the driver’s seat. Don’t take that responsibility lightly. Expand and re-prioritize your mindset about “fit”, place heavier weight on the educational aspects and intellectual excitement each school can offer you, and the ROI you experience will be well worth these early efforts.
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