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The 10 Biggest Mistakes When Selecting a College

Selecting the right college is a MAJOR decision. Why is this decision so important? If a student starts college at a school that is not the best fit, they are more likely to transfer and/or be unsuccessful. In either of these cases, you are likely going to take longer to graduate and/or pay more for college. Therefore, selecting the right college is an important decision. There are so many factors that are involved in college choice, and sometimes it is tough to prioritize these factors to make the best selection. Therefore, I am sharing my opinion of the 10 biggest mistakes that prospective college students make during this decision.

1. Following a boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend…

Relationships are very important in the mind of an 18-year-old, and many times, they decide they want to attend the same college as their significant other or BFF. They envision the college social scene with each other, and to them, that is the most important factor. On top of that, going away to college and living on your own can be scary, and many believe that having someone that they know will make it a smoother experience. Although, that may help with the transition to college, every student has individual needs (academically, socially, and emotionally) and different goals (short-term and long-term). College selection needs to be made on individual preferences and goals, not be based on trade-offs so that you can follow someone else’s path.

2. Rushing or procrastinating on the decision process…

Selecting the RIGHT college is a lengthy process. It involves a variety of components, including self-assessments, prioritizing college characteristics, researching colleges and comparing them based on these characteristics, evaluating the financial commitment, visiting college campuses, and completing the application process. Once you receive your admissions, there should be another evaluation of financial aid packages and trade-offs when making the final selection. The process can be long and overwhelming, so many high school seniors either rush the decision or procrastinate (causing them to rush the steps to meet the deadlines). Either way, the student may not be able to make the best decision due to the limit of time spent on the process. Start early, and take your time. This decision is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life because it is an investment in your future.

3. Parental Influence…

Yes, we as parents always have an opinion about where we think our children should go to college. Many of us long to see our child follow in our footsteps and attend our alma mater. Why not? It worked for us, right? As much as we would love to stroll down memory lane with our kids as they follow our footsteps, we must realize that it is time for them to live their life based on their own preferences and goals (which is one of the hardest mindsets to accept as a parent). Our children were raised in a different time, with different friends, and most of the time, have different goals. Sometimes, we may have a child that continues the family tradition, but as hard as it is, we must step aside and let them make that decision on their own.

On the other hand, sometimes teenagers want to rebel and go to any school that their parents tell them is not a good school. Again, that is not a good reason to select a school.

4. Limited Knowledge of the School…

Selecting the best college to fit your academic, social, and emotional preferences takes a great amount of time and research. High school students begin receiving college marketing mail as early as their freshman year, and you should never select your college based on the strength of their advertisements or their marketing department. Prior to committing to a college, a prospective student must visit the campus, talk to the admissions office, and research the school thoroughly. Not only should you research the school itself, you should also research the surrounding area, restaurants, shopping, and activities near the campus. This school will be your home for the next four years. You need to be able to see yourself as a part of the community.

5. Location, Location, Location…

Location is an important factor in the college selection process; however, it should not be the ultimate guiding factor. You need to find an area where you are happy with the landscape, activities, weather, and overall environment. However, you can find schools that match other priorities with a variety of location options.

One other location factor is the big question of staying close to home or moving far away. Some students opt to move as far away from home as possible, even if the best options are close. You have the opportunity to move far away after graduation. Carefully consider your options and weigh your decision. If you decide to stay close to home, there are things you can do to still make the college experience authentic, such as live in a dorm. Also, realize that staying in-state may be a financial decision, so do not rule out staying close to home for at least four more years.

6. Let your favorite sports team (or active social scene) guide your choice…

We all grew up supporting a favorite team, and many times, we pledge to attend that college so that we can be apart of the game environment. However, that is not the best way to select your college. Also, selecting your college based solely on an active social scene can be a distraction to your college success. You can always cheer on your favorite team while you are enjoying your college experience at a different college.

Potential collegiate student-athletes, I understand your college selection is heavily weighted on the schools that are offering you a position on their team. So, I propose one question to you as you are selecting your college. I am a former athletic trainer, and I worked with collegiate athletes while in school. I watched several of them end their collegiate athletic career with an injury. In the event that were to occur, would you still like the college as an educational school only? If you are lucky enough to have offers from multiple schools, consider that perspective to determine which school you may like attending more than the others.

7. Selecting on “big names” or prestige only…

Every state has colleges that are the “big name” colleges or the most “prestigious” colleges. Although acceptance to these schools is impressive, these colleges are not the best fit for everyone. Just because you “get in” to the school does not mean that you will “fit in” to the student body. There are many options for colleges for a reason, and you need to find which one will challenge you academically, but not overwhelm you. You also want a place where you can thrive and enjoy your experience.

8. Not considering financial restrictions…

College is a very costly investment. Not many people have the reserved funds to pay for their college out of pocket, so loans are a frequent solution. However, with loans comes repayment. Many college freshmen enter into loan agreements without truly understanding the financial implications down the road. They will be paying on these loans throughout the beginning of their career, buying their first house, starting a family, etc. Therefore, you should always know how much money will need to be borrowed, and plan for the repayment of these funds as you are preparing for graduation.

There are many options to decrease the cost of college, and high school students need to explore these options. Taking courses, such as Advanced Placement, can help lower tuition by receiving a score on the exam that will count as college credit. Also, many states are allowing dual enrollment through a community college while in high school, where students can gain high school and college credit as a high school student (for little or no cost). One other option that seems to be a growing trend is for students to begin their college experience at a local community college for the first two years, then transferring to a four-year college after obtaining their general education courses. High school counselors can help you decide which path is best for you, but I highly recommend that you start that talk during your sophomore year.

9. Selecting a school based on size, classification, or rankings only…

Big schools do not automatically indicate good schools. There are a variety of schools that are small that provide a very strong education. Also, public schools and private schools vary in their strength of education. I recommend that you consider all of the options and make your decision based on your preferences.

In regards to college rankings, I will be providing a blog solely on those at a later date. College rankings are measured on a variety of factors, many of which do not directly impact your education. Stay tuned for next week’s blog, and you will learn more about where these rankings come from and why they should not be your primary guide to selecting a college.

10. Having a closed mind or avoiding rejection…

Applying to college can be overwhelming and scary. No one wants to hear that they have been rejected by a college, so many only apply to schools where they feel confident that they will be accepted. However, the more you research college admissions, you will realize that there are many factors that play into the admissions process that cannot be seen through a test score or grade point average. When you start the college application process, start with an open mind. Cast your net far and wide to see what schools interest you, and as you research, narrow your preferred college list where you are planning to apply. Think outside the box, and challenge yourself to look at colleges that you originally did not have on your list. It is very possible that you will find several schools that interest you and may possibly become your new home.

As you are applying for college, you must prioritize your own personal preferences in a school, and you must talk about financial implications. Careful research and college visits will help narrow the list of potential schools where you want to apply. The only way you can truly find the best fit is to take this process seriously, take adequate time to research the schools, and reflect on your own personality and character traits to determine what school would be the best fit. Remember, finding that “best fit” will produce a more satisfying college experience, which leads to a more successful outcome.

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