There have been some awesome posts on here about the decision all you high school seniors have coming up. (see: Rachael on rejection, Joe on getting in, Amanda on the future). As a disclaimer, I’ve only decided where I’m going to college once. Despite that, I thought I’d share my process of choosing a university and some thoughts on how it went, in the hopes that you might identify with some part of it.
My brother is a year above me, so I started doing college tours at the end of my sophomore year. No one in my family knew how to go about starting such an enormous process--my parents both went to the closest state university--so we decided to start looking at a range of schools, just to get a feel for what was out there. First category was size: we looked at large school (35K students), a medium sized school (18K), and a small school (2K). Next was location: East coast, West coast, Midwest? I’d never been East so I decided to add a few schools out there to my list.
Here’s the thing, though. I actually had no idea what kind of place I wanted to go to school at. I made up with some criteria--medium sized school so I could find a group of people, access to a city so I wouldn’t be stuck in a bubble--because I was so overwhelmed by the size of the Princeton Review that I needed to narrow it down somehow.
By the time April 1st rolled around, I had applied to way too many schools and gotten into enough that I still had to make a decision. I looked desperately for more ways to shrink the list. I took off the school that my brother went to, ‘cause I didn’t want to be comparing myself to him for four years. One engineering school had too high a guy-girl ratio. One was inconveniently located so I didn’t get a chance to visit it. Off the list!
Eventually, it came down to three schools. All had great engineering programs, gave me access to a cool city, and were giving comparable financial aid. I was out of eliminating factors. Decision day crept closer.
As high school seniors are wont to do, a large proportion of my conversations with school friends (and everyone, let’s be real), were about college. More people were sending in deposits and excitedly walking around school with their new college sweatshirts. I was reading a lot of College Confidential threads, flipping through admissions brochures, and getting nervous.
Finally, April 29th. I was sitting in class with a girl who had decided ages ago. I brought up my usual conversation starter: I still don’t know where I wanna go. “You should go to Tufts,” she said, “You always sound more excited when you’re talking about it.” I started to protest, realized she was right, and sent in a deposit that night.
To reiterate, I chose a college by
Coming up with an arbitrary set of criteria
Delaying, avoiding decisions, trying to gather more information
I had access to a lot of information about all these schools, but realistically, I had no idea how most of the statistics would affect me as a student, actually living and studying in a places. I finally reached the point where I had studied colleges more than calculus, and my only takeaway was that I could get a really good education at any of the schools that I was considering. At that point, the major purpose of going to college was satisfied, and I just had to pick the place where I thought I would be the happiest. I had a gut feeling about where I wanted to go, but I had a lot of trouble extracting that decision from the statistics and numbers and rankings--it took an unbiased observer to help me figure it out.
I’m not going to tell you to come to Tufts. I will encourage you, once you’re done gathering numbers about schools, to find the human side of them. Read blogs, email students, do the virtual tour of the campus, and try to get a feeling about the places you’re considering. You can get a good education in a lot of places, but you’ll do better if you’re actually happy in the environment that you’ve chosen. So once you know your options, go with your gut.