My serious college application career began in fourth grade when my mom drove me through Stanford University. All I knew was that it was presumably the “best,” and I wanted the “best” —even at ten years old. However, prestige is one of the last things to consider when picking schools, and now at eighteen years old, I didn’t even apply.
After visiting almost forty campuses,* I know the traps admissions officers and current students use to convince naive high schoolers that their school is the best and unlike anywhere else. That’s probably BS. May 1 is coming up, and with it comes a big decision for a lot of my fellow seniors.
Here are some things to consider:
1. There is a difference between a college and a university
If you didn’t know this, I don’t blame you. Basically, a college is strictly undergraduate whereas universities also offer graduate programs. Don’t let the name deceive you though. Many universities (ahem, Boston College) go by College due to tradition. While not all prospective students have a preference, it’s important to those who want the extra undergrad attention at colleges or who plan on attending grad school.
2. Every school has an intramural quidditch team
Fairly confidently, I can say every school I’ve researched have some niche sport offered at some level (varsity, club, or intramural). If yours isn’t offered, grab two friends and start a club. But odds are someone has thought of it before you.
3. Professors don’t care about you anywhere EXCEPT this school
Cue the eye roll. Professors are busy, especially at public universities, but if a strong relationship with teachers sounds appealing, then there are plenty of options. Schools’ student-to-faculty ratios are usually searchable.
4. Every school can accommodate your diet
As a vegetarian, my concern whenever others cook for me is having options. When I walk into any cafeteria, I immediately flashback to the week at camp I ate nothing but sad salads of iceberg lettuce, carrots, and ranch. Luckily, college is no Outdoor Ed. Any allergy, dietary restriction, or preference can and will likely be accommodated wherever you go. The best way to test out the food is to give it a try yourself (whenever possible).
5. Every school holds a Chance the Rapper concert
Not literally, but most schools will try and impress you with the musicians they bring in for Welcome Week or other celebrations. Yes, this could be a lifelong memory, but in the grand scheme of things, there are much better reasons to pick a school. It could end up booking Mariah Carey or Nickelback . . .
6. There’s no magic number
7. You may never get the FEELING . . . or you might everywhere
I consider myself lucky to have felt the rush of “Hey, I could really see myself here.” Unfortunately, I got the feeling at both Brown and UChicago (both bragging frightening acceptance rates and price tags). I also got the feeling at Reed after shadowing there, and I ended up not applying. Some people get the feeling once; they’ve got it easy. Others get it everywhere or not at all.
Only YOU can decide what kind of education (small liberal arts, big research institution, community college, etc.) or setting (urban, suburban, rural, etc.) fits. There’s no “one size fits all,” and prestige does not guarantee happiness or success. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what makes a school the “best,” whether that’s size, price tag, location, or what have you. Do your research, and don’t fall for the traps; your next few years are at stake. If it doesn’t work out? Not that I’d never encourage giving up, but Reed-dropout Steve Jobs turned out just fine.
Photo Credits: Jordan Sterrett
*CSUF, Brown, Dartmouth College, Davidson, University of Chicago, UPenn, Swarthmore. Williams, Brandeis, Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern, Clark University, College of the Holy Cross, University of Puget Sound, UW (Seattle and Tacoma), Whitworth, Gonzaga, University of Portland, Reed, SDSU, Cal Poly (SLO and Pomona), every Claremont Colleges, Pepperdine, UCSB, USC, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Oklahoma State University, Chapman, Westmont