I often get asked by friends with college-age students advice on how to go about picking the right college. It can be an overwhelming process. For a more relaxed and refreshing view, I’ve asked my friend James Steen at Houston Baptist University to give some advice to all those parents and high-schoolers faced with difficult choices. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s a really nice guy to speak with, and if you come to visit he’s likely to offer you a cup of coffee as well.
I love to go into a Starbucks this time of year and see all the holiday drink options back on the menu. With so many fun flavors, do I go for the Peppermint Mocha, the Salted Carmel, or the Eggnog Latte? And with options like that, how can I go wrong? But then again, my go-to drink is a White Chocolate Mocha, and I have been burned – literally and figuratively – on occasion by a frou-frou flavor that made me wish I had stuck with my old favorite. It was my turn to order, and I still hadn’t made a decision. So I busted out and went for the Salted Carmel Mocha… and loved every sip of it.
Okay, I admit that this analogy is a stretch, but the line was long that day – the temperature that morning was in the upper 40s – and I had to think about something while waiting on my drink. Obviously ordering a latte is not a life-changing decision, but there are some similarities to the process of choosing a college.
First – be an information gatherer. There are many options to choose from, all of which have their own distinct “taste.” Not only are there numerous establishments from which to choose (colleges/universities), but each establishment also offers a unique set of flavors (majors) to consider. I’ve tried a White Chocolate Mocha from other places, and while some were decent, I’ve always preferred Starbucks’ the best. So weigh the pros/cons of all your options, and choose the institution about which you’re most passionate. Fill out information request cards, send colleges your test scores, do research online, and visit with others who attend that university. With so many great options out there, you need to do your homework.
Second – what sounds good initially may not always be your best choice. The college selection process should be about finding the best fit for your personality. The campus visit is absolutely essential to this process, allowing you to see for yourself whether or not you thrive in that environment. The posters, commercials and website may look really good, but there’s nothing like a taste test to really seal the deal. Have you ever tried to drink coffee that sat too long and now it’s cold, or sip something you expected to be sweet and it was not…it’s hard to finish drinking it. Too often, students choose a college for the wrong reason and end up leaving because they don’t like it.
And finally – don’t let choosing a major drive your decision. One of the things I appreciate about Starbucks is their consistency; you get what you pay for, a quality drink regardless of which one you choose! Most colleges offer majors that will lead you into today’s most popular careers, so find an institution where you’ll thrive, and then identify the major offered there that will serve you best. Spending four or more years somewhere you love rather than a place you’re unsure about will make a big difference. Even if you graduate with a different degree than you originally intended, you will find the overall experience so much more fulfilling if you picked the right institution from the beginning.
Best wishes as you embark upon this journey, and may the college selection process be as easy for you as choosing your next latte!