By Pete Crozier
If you’re a parent wondering what to consider when you and your student make your college decision, below is a letter I wrote to my son after he was accepted to a few schools last year. It helped us narrow down his college decision.
Gavin, it’s college decision time.
You’ve scoured the websites, perused the rankings, visited the colleges, attended the classes, talked to professors, and explored college towns. Now consider what you picture in your mind when you think about college.
What does your dorm look like? Is it organized or does it look like a thrift store and a deli had a baby? Do you have a roommate? Imagine waking up in that room. Is there a bathroom right there or do you zombie-shuffle down the hallway to a communal row of stalls? Keep in mind that the downside to a communal bathroom is the zombie-shuffle down the hallway, but the upside is that you don’t have to clean the toilet!
Once you’ve showered and you head out for class, is it warm or cold? Rainy or dry? Are mountains peeking through clouds? Is the shimmer of a lake pleasantly blinding? Does the cacophony of a city awaken and energize you? Are you walking, riding a bike, driving, or waiting for a bus to get to class?
Now, look around the campus. Is it equipped with natural green space, or does it have the vibrancy of an urban setting? Are students hunkered down, studying between classes, or are they tossing a frisbee to a bandana-wearing dog? Do you feel safe?
Your College Decision Can Come Down to This
Once you narrow down what your surroundings are like, it’s time to consider whether you’ll feel challenged there. My favorite line from Sports Night is, “If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.” So, that said, will this place encourage discourse and debate without disdain? Do the professors have life experiences and not just degrees?
Narrowing down your college decision is about finding a school that helps you become who you want to be, rather than reinforce who you already know you are.
So, do you feel connected? Can you see yourself saying, “Yes, I want to join your organization, yes, I want to contribute to your research, and yes, I want to try, learn, and do more?”
Do you feel supported? Will the professors know your name, and will they push you to be your best self? Will they be accessible yet assertive? Will they be willing to scrap a lesson plan in favor of an interesting conversational tangent? Think about your fellow students. Is this school a place where students claw their way to the top or will the rising tide of cooperation raise everyone?
What about inspiration? In one of your college essays, you were asked what inspires you. You said, “Ambiguity.” I loved that because it shows you are committed to a life of learning.
Finally, ask yourself: Will I be happy here?
If you’re honest with yourself as you consider the questions above, the answer will most likely be “yes” and your college decision will lead you toward curious, caring, true friends, not just people with whom you’re friendly. George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.”
This isn’t the end of a journey. It’s the beginning of one.
UPDATE: My son ultimately chose Villanova University. Did asking these questions make a difference? Did he find “the right fit“? You be the judge. We dropped him off on a Saturday and by Wednesday, we received these texts:
–“I love college so much.”
— “All four of my classes had about 15 students and the professors have been incredible and geniuses and passionate. The classes are full of discussion and engagement. It’s been five days and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this comfortable. I know there’ll be a time that it’ll be tough, but I’m going to soak it up for now.”
–“I’ve been propping my door open [as you suggested] and yesterday, James walked in and goes,‘always with the door open, I love it.’ Good advice, Dad.”
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