This is the final week of reckoning for high school seniors. After months, if not years, of searching and sorting through college options, it all boils down to this week and—what for many students is the $50,000 question—“Where do I send my enrollment deposit?”
Students and parents alike are obsessed with finding the answer, as is evidenced by these queries:
• From a student: "Is it better to go a school that has given me a $20,000 scholarship, a summer internship opportunity, and the promise of a letter of recommendation from the college president at graduation—or should I go to a 'better' school that hasn't given me any of these things?"
• From a parent (unrelated): "Four schools have given our child varying amounts of scholarship assistance. How do we determine which of them represents the best 'value?'"
[Get 5 hints to compare financial aid award letters.]
In each case, the answer lies within the student. To infer otherwise is to devalue, albeit unintentionally, the young person's goals, learning style, and character. At this point in the decision making, there are no absolutes that can be applied with certainty.
Each question—and others like them being asked in countless households around the country—seems to imply a natural order among colleges that doesn't really exist. While it's true that colleges differ with regard to how they engage young people educationally, the differences are most appropriately defined within the context of what the student brings to the table.
The student who couldn't decide between an attractive package from one school and the basic offer from another "better" school was allowing the impressions of others to influence his assessment. In essence, he was asking, "Which will look better"—rather than, "Which will work better for me?"
[Follow 10 steps to picking the right college for you.]
The truth is, the biggest difference between the two schools is geographic. Given his career goals and hands-on learning preference, the answer should have been clear to him.
Similarly, in asking her question, the parent was attempting to lend objectivity to the choice of a college without factoring her child into the equation. Rather than asking whether College A was "worth" the difference in out-of-pocket expenses to the family, she might have pursued a line of questioning that focused on her child's comfort level with the various academic cultures and learning environments.
In other words, assuming an ability to meet college costs at any of the schools, the question might have been, "Where is my child most likely to be meaningfully engaged such that he can achieve his educational goals?"
Given diligent research thus far in the process, a student assessing college options really should not be confronted with any that are truly bad. And, in fairness, the folks raising the questions referenced above were trying to make fine distinctions between good and valid options. They simply needed to focus on their core priorities in finding the answers.
[Make good on the educational investment.]
In making your final choice of a college, then, keep the following in mind:
1. Which school gives me the best opportunity to achieve my educational goals by virtue of its curriculum, faculty, and facilities?
2. In which learning environment will I be able to "do my thing" most comfortably?
3. Which college will challenge me to develop my skills to their fullest?
4. Where will I find a community of "scholars" that brings out the best in me as a person?
5. Which college has demonstrated that it is most likely to invest in my success?
Think for yourself and you can't go wrong. Happy decision making!