How to pick the right college

Throw out those college rankings!

Unless you are 100% sure you are going to academia or grad/profession school, these rankings are not much use and may even lead to the wrong decision. Take a look at their methodology; does the number of professors with PhD really matter to you? When I was in college, I found that some of the grad students taught better than the professors armed with PhDs. The rankings focus on academics, which are important but don’t necessarily translate into better job prospects or a satisfying college experience. Instead of the rankings, think about some of these things that really matter:

It’s not just about the diploma; it’s 4 years of your life

  • Pick somewhere where you can grow into the person you want to be – People don’t magically become adults on their 18th birthdays. College is where they start maturing. You want to be stimulated academically, but college is also where you make friends for life and maybe even meet your future spouse.
  • School size matters – If it’s too big, you may be overwhelmed. If it’s too small, you may not grow much as a person. You only grow when you are out of your comfort zone.
  • Pick a school that fits your personality and interests If you are a hands-on engineer, you won’t be happy going to a highly ranked school that is very theoretical. If your religion is very important to you, you’ll want to be around people who feel the same way. If you love outdoor activities, going to a school in the Great Plains might not be for you. How do you know if a school matches you? Go visit and talk to the students.
  • Weather matters If you can’t take cold weather, you may be miserable in the Northeast. How much will you be getting from your tuition if you don’t go to classes because it’s 20 degrees and snowing outside?

Career planning

  • How does college fit in your long-term goals? – Make a rough plan for the next 5-10 years; you can always change it later. Money doesn’t grow on trees, so it pays to think ahead. If you shell out $160,000 for college, will you be able to afford paying another $90,000 after that for law school? Or is it better to save some money by going to a state college so that you can spend more on law school? It’s your final degree that defines you, so it’s better not to skimp on it. To put these dollar amounts in perspective, you can easily buy a house for $250,000 in some places.
  • Location, location, location Only a handful of schools are renowned nationally or internationally; the power of most schools is concentrated locally. If you are planning to live and work in Austin, a degree from Dartmouth isn’t going to help as much as a UT degree.
  • School size matters here too Again, for networking purposes. A small college can never match a huge college in terms of alumni network size.
  • School spirit is power Traditionally linked to having good sports teams, but it could also just be the school’s culture. Why does it matter? Alumni who are excited about the school are more likely to enthusiastically support other alumni. For example, I’ve heard of some Texas A&M grads that hire fellows Aggie virtually on the spot. In fact, I think this may be a better measure of alumni network strength than alumni giving, which is a factor in some college rankings.

Conclusion – I know that all this is more difficult than picking the highest rank school that accepted you, but you’ll be glad you put in the extra thought.

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