mcgill-university-main-quad-1400133-638x477By the time I was 15 years old, I had picked my college. Boston College was my future. I imagined walking the tree-lined streets, adapting to the New England culture, pushing myself academically, etc. Mind you, I had never visited, spoken to a university representative or researched their academic or extracurricular opportunities. I just thought it was “me”.

When it finally came time to visit, I stepped onto campus, started the tour, attended the discussions and felt…ambivalent. No, not ambivalent. Uncomfortable. It didn’t feel like me at all. I left feeling disappointed and confused. It wasn’t until I visited other schools and got a sense of different possibilities that I found several options that not only felt “right” but also offered what I was looking for academically, culturally and organizationally.

I eventually landed at Marquette University, another Jesuit school but in the heart of the midwest. It was a long drive away from my home town versus a flight, a bit more “down to earth” and incredibly supportive of all things “me”.

It was one of the best decisions of my life.

Did I just luck out? No. I looked at this very big decision – College – holistically. I decided I wanted the “right” school for me, not necessarily the “best” pedigree. You hear a lot about “reach schools” and boy, it feels good to be accepted! But asking yourself, “What am I reaching for?” is critical. Sometimes the best colleges are not the right ones for you.

I’m a big believer in the gut check, and it served me well in my college-bound decision making. But, here at Crafted CC, we understand there’s a lot more to choosing a college than just your gut. Here are some questions we encourage you to ask yourself as you consider your higher education:

What field of interest or area of study will I pursue? Is it specialized, therefore streamlining your choices, or do you have flexibility to consider a diversity of colleges?

Will my college choice stand on its own should I choose to change majors? 75% of college students change their majors at least once. Again, choosing the “right” area of study for you (versus the “best”) will lead to more happiness, long-term success and career satisfaction. Just like anything else, sometimes you have to try things on to know if it’s a fit.

Reputation is deceiving. I want a university that offers the best ________. Internship opportunities? Business school? International opportunities? Thought leadership? Activism? Universities offer a lot more than their names. Drill down to what’s most important to you and prioritize from there.

What size of school feels right for me? Know thyself. If a big school does not feel right for you, listen to that. Visit the environment and seek out conversations with current students and alums to get a sense of how size affects not just academics but lifestyle, social life, etc.

Where do I want to live? Consider how far away from home you’re willing to go. Are you comfortable in an urban environment? What’s important to you in a community? Consider, too, that graduating students trend to either going back to their roots, or settling near their colleges after graduation.

What level of academic rigor will push me to grow, versus burn me out? Again, feel proud of an acceptance letter from your reach school. But choose a program and school where you can be successful. Conversely, don’t settle for a school that won’t challenge you. You don’t HAVE to go to college, after all. Why waste your time in something that leaves you bored?

What is important to me in a campus culture? Consider: size, city, regional cultural and demographics, historical relevance, organizations and culture (Greek life, service learning, etc.), religious affiliation, liberal arts, emphasis on athletics, proximity to personal interests (outdoors, arts, etc.).

What can I afford? The cost of higher education is no joke, and making an expensive investment that is not “right” for you can saddle you with debt for years to come. Most of us will not have a golden ticket, and limiting your parameters to what is feasible and reasonable is simply a wise thing to do. But don’t be discouraged. There are many great options at different tuition levels.

Keep in mind, this list is intended for students who are certain higher education at a college or university is a good fit. Being true to “fit factor” we understand college is not for everyone. If you’re in that camp, check out some wonderful alternatives to an advanced degree.

At Crafted CC, we work with high school students who are going through the college discernment process. If you could use some support to think through this very important decision, contact us.