5 Scenarios to Avoid When Choosing a College

Don't apply to a college simply because your love interest, friends, or parents say you should.

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A recurring theme in this blog has revolved around the notion of "fit": The best college for you is the one that fits you best. Unfortunately, this notion seems to be lost on many students as they plan for college. Instead, emotion takes over, leading to college choices that are often regretted.

This can be problematic considering the potential costs involved when a college doesn't work out—your time, your parents' money, and the lost opportunity to you as a wage earner upon graduation. Therefore, it might be a good idea to avoid the following emotional factors that can contribute to unproductive college choices—colleges to which you are drawn initially but that do not fit well in the long run.

1. Love: The best college for you is not the place that your love interest attends! Before you and your significant other get too far along in planning the rest of your lives together, know that the odds of maintaining the relationship over four years of college are not in your favor.

In fact, most high school romances break up before the end of the first year of college. Does it make sense, then, for you to commit to four years at somebody else's college just so you can be together when there is a very good chance that before the end of the first semester she'll find some other guy—and you'll end up being a spectator on her campus? Would you call that a good fit?

[Get more advice on applying to college.]

2. Following the crowd: Eager as you might be to graduate from high school, you might not feel like you are ready to leave the people with whom you hang out. As a result, everyone heads off to college together—in many cases, sight unseen. If anybody asks why you chose to attend that college, your response will probably be, "My friends go there."

Now, how much sense does that make? One or two of your friends have it figured out. They know the program and have made deliberate decisions. The rest of you just want to, well, hang out. Now, you are on a campus that is strange to you without any sense of purpose, except that your best friends from high school are there. Is that a good fit?

[Learn 5 things that high school seniors should be doing now.]

3. Parents: The best school for you is not likely to be the place your parents attended or the place they want you to attend! This can become uncomfortable if your parents are already talking about the places you should attend. While you don't want to disappoint them, you want to find your own college—a place that is the best fit for you. After all, you are different people. What worked for them might not work for you.

If you sense a conflict of this nature brewing, you need to find a diplomatic solution to it early in your search. The longer you allow your parents' expectations of a destination to linger prominently in the picture, the harder it will be to extricate yourself from those expectations later in the process—that is, assuming you truly want to look in different directions.

[Get answers to parents' college planning questions.]

4. Sports: The best college for you is not likely to be the place that won the national championship. Everybody likes to be around a winner and there is something to be said for body painting and the crowd frenzy on crisp Saturday afternoons in the fall. Just remember, though, that whatever colors you bleed, you still need to be a student Monday through Friday.

5. Prestige: Finally, the best college for you is not necessarily the place that will give you the most impressive car sticker! Unfortunately, in some quarters, the college admissions process has become a high-stakes competition in which a lot of students and their families are more obsessed with "winning the prize" than finding the best fit. The student may win the car sticker and all the bragging rights that go with it, but does she or he have the right college? Maybe, maybe not.

[Discover 8 strategies for starting your college application process.]

Ultimately, you need to remain reflective throughout the process in order to make sure a school, especially a high-profile place, is the right one for you. (Would you buy a good-looking pair of shoes even if they were too snug in the toes?) As you move forward, resist the temptation to act impulsively or run with the herd.

You must be able to live with your choice for four years—and it needs to work for you in the years that follow. Invest in learning more about places that might be right for you—not your love interest, friends, or parents. Now is the time to focus on you and what constitutes a good fit for you, so that yours will be a successful four-year college experience.

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