4 Things I Wish I Had Thought About or Knew When Applying To and Choosing Colleges
So this has been on my mind lately what with all the prospies around, and also because I’m chatting with someone online. Just some random ponderings.
1.College Tours are Full of Distortions:I think the more cynical among us find this obvious, but as a prospective student, I didn’t really think about this. Part of it can be chocked up to the naivete of my younger self, and part of it is undoubtedly due to the simple fact that I was so inundated with facts about schools that I was unable to properly process them, let alone really consider if they were totally true.
My main point here is that college tours are designed to highlight certain aspects of a school that are appealing to prospective students and parents and diminish those that are not. They frame aspects of campus life, academics, and all kinds of other aspects of the college experience in ways that are a little out of balance with reality.
My advice: Walk around the campus, and the community (or drive around) beyond where the tour takes you. Talk to current and former students about their experiences. Do some research on your own on the Internet. Remember that you’re the target of marketing in those experiences and that even the anecdotes that your guide tells may not be at all typical. (I’m not trying to say that guides or tours lie, but merely that you should think about what they say carefully and be realistic.)
2. Food Mattered To Me A Lot More in College Than It Did in High School
Looking at colleges I was aware that dining halls could be a sticking spot of anyone’s experience, but I didn’t realize how much more food was going to affect me on a daily basis than it did in high school. In high school, I had an easy routine to my meals, and even if I didn’t always like the food in the high school cafeteria or what my dad made for dinner, I didn’t have to worry about it or force myself to eat something I hated.
At school, I ended up trapped in a crappy, expensive, restrictive dining plan for two years. In the year I’ve lived off campus, I’ve been very frustrated by the difficulty in shopping, because the only grocery store within relatively quick walking distance is a Whole Foods.
My advice: Don’t just assume that “all dining halls suck” and move on. Look into meal plans – their price, how restrictive they, if you’re required to have one. Think about how easy it will be to access food to supplement your meal plan or to feed yourself off campus.
3. You Go To College (Generally) For Four Years
This may also seem obvious, but I think it’s easy, when shopping for colleges, not to think about your whole experiences. You get focused on dorms and other aspects of life that are generally specific to your freshmen and sophomore years. If you talk about study abroad/internship options, it’s usually in a very general way. I don’t remember, at any school I was ever considering, thinking about what it would be like to live off campus.
My advice: Think about what you imagine your life to be like at that school not only in your first one or two years, but also later on. Can you see yourself living off campus in that community. Will you be bored living here for four years? How will the disadvantages of that school – academic calendar, location, missing programs or activities – affect you if you have to deal with them for four years?
4. Academic Programs Can Vary A Ton Within A School
When I was looking at schools I was undecided and alternately told people who asked a handful of different majors I was considering. I was told there was nothing wrong with going in undecided, and I still think this is true, but I will say that even if you’re undecided between 3 or 4 majors, it’s important to learn a little bit about those majors at any school that you’re seriously considering attending. Because even though a school is great academically on the whole, individual departments can be microdisasters, for any number of reasons.
In my own personal experience, I ended up choosing a history and Spanish major and my experiences with the two departments could not have been more DIFFERENT (typo in original). Although the Spanish department has caused me A LOT of grief over the years, it’s dysfunction didn’t affect me too badly because Spanish isn’t the focus of my studies or my career ambitions. I’ve been very fortunate that studying history, which is my focus, has been an amazing experience at NU. But that was luck.
My advice: When you’ve narrowed it down to a few schools, talk to students/former students about the departments you’re most interested in.
Okay, well I should go back to actually working on this paper. I hope you didn’t find this ego-centric. Maybe someone will even find it helpful.