24 Common Mistakes in Choosing a College

eraserBased on my experience these are the mistakes students often make in searching for colleges the right college to attend.

1. Only look at colleges your best friend is looking at

Your goal should be to find the right college for you, not your best friend. Even the closest friends have different goals and ambitions. You may do well with lecture based classes while your friend wants discussion based classes. Figure out who you are and what you want from a college. Then go search for the college that fits your needs.

2. Go to college where your girlfriend or boyfriend is going

See our advice in No. 1. You are also not your girlfriend or boyfriend. You have different interests, different ways of learning, and different life goals. If you are truly meant to be with each other, you can survive going to different colleges.

3. Consider only colleges that mom or dad attended

See our advice in No. 1 and No. 2. Getting the drift here? You are an individual and no matter how much mom or dad loved their time at Good Times U, doesn’t mean that this is a good school for you.

4. Choose a college because it is the last place mom or dad want you to go

Just as pleasing mom and dad is not a good reason to choose a college, getting back at mom or dad is also a terrible reason to choose a college. Some students so want to break away from the parents that they choose a college that is the opposite of what they believe their parents want for them. This approach does not produce any better choice for your college years. Determine what you really want from a college and try to find a college with those attributes. Don’t worry about whether mom and dad will think of your choice. If it is the right choice for you your job is to convince your parents of why it is your best choice.

5. Choose a college based on the quality of their athletic teams

The year after Northwestern University played in the Rose Bowl they had a record number of applications. This effect even has a name, the Flutie Factor. Named after Doug Flutie the Boston College football quarterback who led an upset win over the defending national champions, many colleges have noticed a substantial increase in applications that year after noticeable success in some well-known sport such as football or basketball. If you plan on playing college sports at this level then go ahead and give this issue some thought. But remember, college is about getting the best education you can get for your needs.

6. Go to the college with the best party scene

The ability to not only study but also have a good time in college is something that most students desire. And that isn’t necessarily bad. But like everything else, remember why you are going to college and spending all of that money. You are there primarily to get an education. If that isn’t your first priority then maybe you need to rethink whether you should be going to college. You should also understand that even the most academically strenuous colleges will have parties available. You can find a party anywhere; don’t make it your priority in the college search.

7. Look only at colleges within 100 miles of where you live

Want to be near home? That is certainly one of the criteria a student may have for choosing a college. But for most people, expanding your scope a little bit provides many more choices for the best educational experience for you. How about 200 miles, or even 300 miles? The further away from home you are willing to consider, the more options you have and the more financial aid you may receive.

8. Don’t examine who you are and what you want from a college

If you haven’t tried to figure out who you are, how are you going to find a college that is best for you? At 17 you are not expected to know everything about what you will do with your life or what sort of job you will end up with. But if you don’t examine yourself at all you have little hope of finding a great college for you. Do you want a big campus or a small one? It’s fine if you don’t know the answer. If possible, visit a large campus and a small campus. See which type of atmosphere you prefer. If you can’t get to visit different campuses, read articles about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of campus.

9. Don’t visit a college or a similar type of college before applying

Visiting a college campus while the students are present is a great way to get a feel for a college. Talking to people, seeing what posters are up around campus, sitting in a class and seeing how professors and students relate to each other can all be valuable ways to decide if a college would be a good choice for you.

If you can’t visit a college, try to visit a similar type college around the Twin Cities. While each college is different you can get some impressions of a type of college by visiting similar schools. But if you aren’t able to visit then you have an even greater need to spend time investigating the colleges you are considering.

10. Let the choice just happen instead of taking charge of your future

Many people don’t plan on where to go to college, they just let it happen. Maybe you see a view book with nice pictures. Maybe you get a friendly email. Maybe somebody says they can see you going to a particular college. Choosing a college is your first big opportunity to act like an adult and find something that fits you. Don’t just slide in somewhere that might be OK. Do some research and find a college that really fits you.

11. Apply to colleges that you don’t really like because you think it will make your parents proud or impress your friends

Finding a college is about you and what will fit your needs best. Your parents should be proud of you for doing well in school and going to college. Don’t worry about what they or your friends think. Finding the right college will make you happier and more likely to be successful than going to somewhere just to impress other people.

12. Choose a college based on whether the student body is attractive

Most people don’t want to admit that they are really this shallow. The reality is that there are attractive men and women on all campuses. There are also less attractive men and women on all campuses. Physical appearance should not be an issue at a place where your main goal is to get an education.

But appearance does often have an effect on whether a student is interested in applying to a college. A student who keeps up with current fashions is not going to be excited by a campus where very casual dress is the norm. Likewise, a student who plans on attending classes in pajamas will often not feel comfortable on a campus where preppy is the main style.

13. Believe that the harder a college is to get into, the better it must be

The quality of a college and its selectivity are not related to each other. Many high quality colleges are not that difficult to be admitted to while some colleges that have very low admission rates may be a terrible choice for you. You need to be concerned about admission rates to make sure that you will have options when the time to choose a college comes around. But the best college for you may be one that has open admissions. You don’t know until you check the college out.

14. Assume that all colleges are the same

Some people will spend more than $100,000 for a new car and others will spend $10,000. The more expensive car will give you lots of bells and whistles but the cheaper car will save you lots of money. Both cars will get you where you are going but the experience is going to be very different. Similarly, different colleges will give students very different experiences.

Some colleges emphasize teaching of their students while others focus on research. Some have big time athletics as the focus of the college while others don’t even have a football team. While many colleges will have similarities with other colleges, they will also have differences. Your job is to find the differences that matter to you that will make for the best college experience possible.

15. Rely on the rankings in news magazines

Americans love to rank things. What’s the best car, the best doctor, the best hospital? The problem with rankings is figuring out best for whom. Because we all have different interests, and different standards, finding the best of anything is going to be a matter of one person’s judgment.

This is true with colleges as well. We can identify which colleges have the highest SAT averages or the highest alumni giving rate but do those factors make those colleges best for everyone? The other problem with rankings is that the people putting the rankings together often change the rankings each year so that the results will change and people will buy the latest rankings.

Rankings don’t tell you what is important to you. You must figure out what is important to you and then rank colleges according to the criteria that is important for your college experience.

16. Apply only to prestigious colleges

Just because a school has the reputation of being prestigious, does not mean that you are going to like it. What if the school doesn’t offer the major that you want? What if it doesn’t offer the extracurricular activity in which you want to be involved? You need to consider aspects that are important to you when choosing a school instead of worrying about how whether or not it is a high-status school.

17. Rely on someone else’s opinion

If someone you trust gives you an opinion on a college you should go ahead and investigate that college. But remember, this is only one person’s opinion, no matter how much you trust that person. Your job is to put together all of the information you gather about various colleges along with all of the opinions you receive, and form your own opinion on what the best college for you might be.

18. Be too shy to ask questions

A college education is one of the most expensive things you will buy in your lifetime. And you are choosing a place where you are going to live for four years of your life. Now is not the time to be shy. Ask lots of questions of lots of different people. Most current students and faculty members of colleges will be happy to talk to you about their college. If they aren’t that tells you something about the culture of that college. If you have trouble asking strangers to talk about their college send emails, or participate in online chats. Most people in admissions will be happy to answer your questions or get you in touch with someone who can answer your questions.

19. Rely on a college’s advertising

Colleges put their best foot forward in the view books and other information that they send to prospective students. Most northern colleges don’t have pictures of snowstorms in their literature. Similarly, southern colleges don’t show pictures of plants that have died from the heat and drought. You don’t have to be cynical but remember that no college is as perfect as they would like to be. Your job is to find out the actual strengths and weaknesses of each college to see where your best fit is.

20. Misjudge your ability to get admitted to a particular college

Colleges are generally looking for the same thing; students with strong academic backgrounds with interesting lives outside of school. However, just because your math teacher considers you a prodigy, doesn’t mean that you are going to be admitted to every college you wish to attend. Among the most selective colleges in this country, many regularly reject students with perfect GPA’s and perfect test scores.

The more selective the colleges you are considering, the more you need to be aware of the competition to gain admission to such colleges. Go ahead and apply to highly selective colleges, but keep for consideration a less selective college in case you aren’t admitted to that other college.

21. Ignore how you will pay for college

This is an article in itself so all I’ll say is don’t assume that just because you may be admitted into a college you can afford it. Most of the financial aid goes to students who are in the top 1/4 of the entering freshman class so make sure that you review the grades and ACT or SAT scores of the student that are regularly admitted. The College Planner that you now have access to is a great tool for this so make sure that you use it.

22. Ignore the resources you have available to help

Every student has a variety of resources available to help them find the right college. One of the most helpful recent resources is the internet. A wealth of information can be found on the web sites of the colleges themselves to sites providing general information or discussion boards where people give their opinions on various topics related to college admissions. Again, our College Planner is an EXCELLENT source!

Contact current college students who are recent graduates of your high school. And don’t forget your parents, family members or other adults who have attended college.

Finally, don’t forget the colleges themselves who make tours of the campus available and who are present at college fairs to answer your questions.

23. Don’t adequately investigate your college choices

If you have made it this far without making any of the mistakes listed, don’t make the mistake of not fully checking out your college choices. Students will sometimes find a college that seems perfect and realize too late that it doesn’t offer the major they are interested in. Or they may find out that the “perfect” college has a culture dominated by the Greek system and the student is not a joiner or party person.

The best way to avoid problems like these is to do your research particularly on those colleges in which you have an interest. The best way to investigate a college? Go for a visit and stay overnight in the dorms; eat the food; talk to the students. Often times, such a visit will confirm all the best you thought about a college or dash any interest of attending. Either way, it is better to find out before you set foot on campus as a new freshman if this isn’t the place for you.

If you can’t visit before you apply, make sure you visit after you are accepted but BEFORE you decide to attend the college

24. Decide that there is only one “right” college

Up until now we have been talking about finding the “right” college. But the reality is that there are many “right” colleges for most students. If you have found a college that feels right for you, ask them who their main competitors are for students. Chances are in that group of competitors you will find other colleges that also feel right for your interests.

You may even find a college that feels even more “right”. But you have to have an open mind in the search for the right colleges for you. Don’t close off your options by limiting yourself to only one right college.

Feel free to post a comment or email me any questions you may have