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College... what NOT to do!

Girl thinking about College Selection Planning

The most important thing NOT TO DO in a college search is nothing! In other words, just sit back and miss deadlines and possibilities.


That said, the following is a list we came across. Lauren Starky, who writes about college admissions for Examiner.com, listed the “Ten Worst Reasons to Choose a College”. To help you avoid making big mistakes, I'm sharing Starky’s list and some follow-ups from a grad student Mellisa discussing how to steer clear of common errors.

"Ten Worst Reasons to Choose a College"

  • "The website and/or brochure look great."
  • ALL college websites and brochures look great. Even if the school is in a slum, the photographer will shoot the tiny patch of grass at an angle to make it look like an urban oasis. The students are always happy, studious, and good looking, and the weather is perfect. Remember that these are marketing tools—they might have information you need, but they’re also about selling an image.
    Don't make your search list solely based upon a college's marketing material! While official websites are great primary resources for learning core facts about what each school has to offer, you won't gain insight into the potential downsides of a campus. Try to get the full picture by reading blogs about the college and watching candid student-created campus videos.

  • Prestige.
  • There’s nothing wrong with going to a highly selective school; you’ll receive a great education and have access to an alumni network that could help you land a high-paying job. However, choosing a school solely for its prestigious reputation is shallow. You’re going to be there for four years—make sure the attraction is more than skin deep.
    Don't put all your eggs in the most prestigious baskets! The colleges with the big names draw the most attention, but that also means they're the toughest to get into. If you're genuinely attracted to the most popular schools, go ahead and apply! Work hard to make yourself the most qualified candidate you can be and realize that everyone else is doing the same to win that much-coveted spot in the incoming class. At the same time, make sure that you have back-up “safety schools” with less “sizzle” that are equally as attractive in terms of “substance” (i.e. comparable academic opportunities and extracurricular programs).

  • Your friends are going there.
  • Just because they’re your friends doesn’t mean you share the same goals, study habits, or lifestyle preferences. Going to college is the first real step to becoming independent, and choosing a school should be about thinking for yourself.
    Don't be a follower and limit your college options! Chances are that your friends will end up pursuing career opportunities different from yours, and their paths may take them to a different state or even a different country! Remember “The Game of LIFE®” board game? Each player chooses a path on his or her first turn and that first choice dramatically influences the course of the game and the eventual winner. Your decision about where you are going to college is setting the course for your adult life- it should be a decision based on your strengths and interests!

  • It’s cheap.
  • Once it’s time to decide which college you’ll attend, finances are of course a major consideration. But we’re talking about applying: if there's a school you’d like to go to which seems out of reach financially, apply anyway (you might even be able to get the application fee reduced or waived). If you get in, they may offer an aid package that makes it possible for you to attend. Cost alone is not a good reason to apply to a college.
    Don’t pay too much attention to the college sticker price! Colleges and universities are supported by grants, endowments, alumni, corporate funding, private donations, and so on. Each student’s tuition is just a drop in the bucket to the college and, for the right students, colleges are willing to negotiate! If you are an excellent fit for the college, you may find that your ideal college matches will extend a competitive financial aid offer that allows you to attend. If you limit your search to dollars and cents, you may be matching yourself to colleges that don’t fit your needs at all.

  • The online matching program told you it was a good school for you.
  • Those free programs can help you learn about schools you might not have considered and give you ideas about narrowing down your choices. But they’re not foolproof and they’re highly impersonal (no matter how much they try to appear otherwise). Don’t give their “advice” more weight than it deserves.
    Don't rely on one source to make your college decision! Whether it's your friends, a website, a guidance counselor, no one but you can make the final decision that best fits your unique needs, interests and talents. Project-College can help here!

  • You know you’ll get in.
  • Everyone needs a safety school, but you should give as much thought to choosing that school as you have given to your reach schools. Just because something's a sure thing doesn't mean you wouldn't love to attend all the same.
    Don't choose a college just because! With over 3,500 college and university options to choose from, you shouldn't ever have to resort to randomness to make a selection. If I were you, narrowing down my options to the ones that I am most excited about would be the real challenge!

  • They offer the major you’re interested in.
  • If they’re also in a great location, are the size you’re looking for, and overall match your other criteria, then apply. If not, an academic program alone (unless it’s so unique that you really don’t have another choice) is a bad reason. Can you spell t-r-a-n-s-f-e-r?
    Don't make a complex, multi-faceted decision based upon one factor! Your primary goal for attending college is to earn a degree in your major field of study. However, you also need to consider how your future college is going to meet your needs while you are working on your degree. Chances are, you can find your major at a college that matches your size, location, activity, budget and lifestyle needs.

  • Your mother/grandfather/uncle went there.
  • Again, does it match your criteria? If not, then being a legacy is not as important as attending a college that’s a great fit for you.
    Don't design your future for someone else! Choosing a college just because you have family roots there is like picking a college to be with your high school friends. You should listen to input from family and friends and take their experiences and advice into consideration. But, ultimately, you are the one who is going to devote four years (at least) to your college education and the decision has to be right for you!

  • It’s always on the list of top-ten party schools.
  • And you’re going to college why? Everyone needs to unwind, but if partying takes precedence over education now, before you’re even there, it might be a wise idea to consider taking a year off. There are some great “gap year” programs out there to help you get some experience and identify what you’d like to study.
    Don't base your college choices on ANY top-ten list! Do you ever completely agree with the top ten songs, movies, bands, fashions or sports teams? No! Because, “best” is an expression of opinion and opinions differ- radically- from person to person. “Best”, or “top ten”, in your college search should apply to the colleges that have the most to offer you as an individual!

  • It’s the only school you’ve seen and you like it.
  • After seeing five more schools, you might still like it. Or you might discover that it only looked good when you had nothing to compare it to. Going to college takes a considerable amount of time and money. Get out there and visit a few more.
    Don't be hardheaded or close-minded, and only apply to one college. Ask yourself; is there only one good restaurant in town or one good song on the radio? When you have literally thousands of colleges to choose from, why would you ignore all of your other options? And, what if that one college happens to receive three applications for every one spot in their incoming class? By all means, it is good to focus on your goals and hone in on what you really want- but you also want to know that you have choices and solid alternatives.

    REMEMBER: The worst thing to do is just sit back and miss deadlines and possibilities.



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