When I’m working with college-bound students, it’s super common for them to get overwhelmed, exasperated and frustrated long before the college planning process is complete. I do many things to prevent students and families from getting to this point, like breaking down big goals into manageable tasks, focusing on small milestones and reminding them about the prize waiting for them at the end of all the work, which is the perfect fit with the college of your dreams. Still, it’s common to hear a student say something like, “I just want to make a decision and be done with this.” Or, “I can’t wait until this is over with.”
When I see a student’s eyes roll back in their head a little, or when I see a parent’s face get red because they’re weary of intense discussions with their son or daughter, I pause. I try to lighten the mood by making the analogy between finding the perfect college and finding the perfect spouse to marry. After all there are some striking similarities when you think about it.
Choosing a College is Like Choosing Someone to Marry. Here’s three examples.
- The person you choose to marry determines the trajectory of your life. It’s the same with college.
- Marriage is a huge investment of time and, let’s face it, money. It’s the same with college.
- Marriage isn’t something to be rushed into or taken lightly. It’s the same with college.
Mom or Dad, imagine your chagrin at hearing your child utter any of the following phrases about finding the perfect mate. Yet I hear these all the time, and have to work to bring families back into focus on the significance of a college search done well, and what can happen if you shortchange what should be a thorough, fulfilling and exhaustive process.
Choosing a Soulmate No-No #1: “I just want to get this over with.”
What?! Mom and Dad, can you imagine your son or daughter saying this when it comes to finding someone to marry? I doubt you’d let them get away with that for a life decision of such great magnitude. Finding the best college for you is also a process to be embraced, done well, not rushed. Rushing the decision to find the best college for you can have disastrous consequences if you don’t have the right tools for making an informed decision. Whether it’s the right college or the wrong college, it’s still going to occupy 4+ years of your life and gobs of money. Why wouldn’t you want to make sure your time and money are spent wisely? No one doubts the seriousness of choosing a mate. Get serious about the significance of finding the perfect college for you. For better or for worse, your college choice will impact the rest of your life.
Choosing a Soulmate No-No #2: “I won’t choose anyone who lives more than an hour or two from me.”
If you limit your choices for a mate to only people living within an hour or two of you, you exclude MOST people in the world. It’s the same with college. MOST colleges aren’t within an hour or two of you. I encourage students NOT to prematurely limit their college search geographically. You may come back to a college that’s within an hour or two of you and decide it’s the perfect fit. But it shouldn’t be your primary college selection criteria. Just like it shouldn’t be your primary selection criteria for finding your soulmate.
Choosing a Soulmate No-No #3: “All my friends like this one, so that’s the one for me.”
Have you met your friends’ girlfriends or boyfriends? I’m sure they’re very nice, but can you imagine applying this silly logic to choosing a mate? “Hey, she’s good enough for him, so she’s good enough for me.” You are a unique individual, and when it comes to finding your soulmate, I’ll bet it’s clear to you why you need to think for yourself. It’s the same with college. Think for yourself. Just because a school is a great fit for your best friend, doesn’t make it a great fit for you. Plus I always tell students I work with to, “Find your college friends at college.” Even if you believe you will miss your high school friends dearly, and you will. I promise you that college opens up a whole new set of social options. Don’t choose colleges for their social benefits. Choose them first and foremost for their educational benefits. After all, if what you’re looking for is a social network, you can find them for a whole lot less than six figures, and that’s the going rate for a college education these days.
Gosh, when we put it that way, it makes sense that finding the perfect college for you is a lengthy and involved process, doesn’t it? But the significance of the decision warrants your patience, time and attention. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, one in three students transfers at least one before earning a college degree, but you can work to prevent that. A college search done well is hopefully (ideally) a college search done once. Kind of like marriage.