‘College’ is a word so frequently used in a high school environment that it has become ingrained into our everyday language. Just about every other student to student, student to teacher, student to parent, parent to parent, or teacher to parent conversation at least skims over the topic of post- high school education. This is especially true this time of year, as seniors finish their last applications and click the coveted “submit” button and as juniors start the extensive process of college visits.
Being a junior myself, I have always considered college to be something far off to look forward to for my future. I’d done some research, at the nagging request of my mom and I had a broad and general idea of which schools interested me and which ones didn’t. My knowledge about the concept and process in its entirety was very basic and only strung together by pieces of information gathered from the Internet and other secondary sources. But this year, as I watch some of my own friends begin their freshman years in college, watch some of my other friends muscle through the maze of college applications, and begin visiting some schools on my own, I am able to dig a little bit deeper into the idea of college.
As an aspiring journalist, I am constantly amused by the mystery of human behaviors. With almost every new idea that I am introduced to, I find myself wondering why? So as my knowledge about college became more and more capacious, my mind raced in search for answers to the question: Why do people choose certain colleges over other ones?
The obvious reasons for selecting one college over another one are as easy to read off as your weekly grocery list. Academics, tuition, size, location, milk, butter, eggs, cheese. And after recently finishing my first of hopefully many college tours, I can justify that these are the things that are most important and that the majority of people do use as a basis for their ultimate school selection. But hearing the stories and thoughts of others as well as taking my own first steps in the college selection process has allowed me to better understand the complexity of these seemingly simple criteria.
Academics. It should go without question that most students, when looking at schools, would like to go somewhere where they would fit in academically. They are looking for a school whose students have the same capacities, potentials, and work ethics. Otherwise, how would they get along on a social level, much less be able to collaborate on any projects or work? But the issue of academics is slightly more complicated than that.
Once a student has narrowed down their selection to schools whose students are more or less academically equivalent to him or her, he or she probably wants to research the programs that the school offers and how they match up with his or her interests. For instance, when learning about a college for the first time, I always want to know right away what their writing programs are like, what options they offer for journalism majors, what internship opportunities do they promote, and the list goes on and on. And then high school students must look into the college’s graduate schools, honors programs, scholarship options, and more. To sum up, academics is no longer a criteria easily satisfied by determining the school’s average GPA and test scores for admitted students.
Following academics, and sometimes even before it, is the issue of location. It seems that out of the people I know, it’s about even in terms of students who want to stay close to home and students who want to break away from the nest. In preparing to my own list of colleges that may be a good fit for me, I have considered both sides. Being close to home comes with unlimited conveniences and luxuries that many college students don’t experience.
You will probably have a few friends, or at least acquaintances on campus when you’re in need of a familiar face. You can see your family and friends from home more often than if you were a long distance away. Your parents can easily bring you anything you might need or pick you up to come home for the weekend in case of an emergency or if you just want to sleep in your own bed.
And then there is the other side of things. Despite being slightly inconvenienced by an extended road trip or flight needed to travel between school and home, there are many advantages to adventuring away to college. You are forced to make new friends and practice social skills that will most likely be crucial later in life. You can exercise independence and gain new responsibilities. You can even learn some important life skills such as doing your own laundry. And being far away makes the precious time you do have with friends and family much more special.
Perhaps one of the most important but least tangible things that high school students consider when looking at prospective colleges is the ‘vibe’ they get from the school. I know that for the few colleges I have looked at, there is a certain feeling you get when you know you like a school and what it has to offer in comparison to when you don’t. It’s hard to describe but almost anyone that I have talked to about why they chose or are choosing a certain college says that they had a good feeling when visiting the campus. It comes from the bustle of college life, the students you see around campus, and the overall atmosphere of the school.
And then there are all of the other, less thought about details. How many students attend the school, what the sports teams are like, Greek life, the living conditions, the quality of the food, cleanliness of the bathrooms, etc… In short, an array of things go into making the important decision of which colleges to apply to and which college to ultimately attend. Just to conclude and clarify, I know that I am only in the early stages of making these decisions and I’m not pretending to be an expert on the topic of college when I know that I’m not. But the fact of the matter is, no one is. There are several main ingredients that I believe go into the recipe for a perfectly matched college, but in the end I think that each person is responsible for making their own instructions and writing their own rules when it comes to selecting a college. For all the students who are either chipping away at applications, beginning to research different schools, or getting ready to make final decisions, I hope that you consider all the things that are truly important to you and focus on what will make you happiest in the long run.