Here are the facts:
- Each year more than one million students enter college as freshmen.
- Only 59% of them will graduate (64% at private schools)
- …within six years.
- Of those who graduate, only 27% work in their degree field.
- The average student loan burden is $27,800.
These statistics are not designed to scare you; they are here to congratulate you on reading this book! If you can apply half of what you learned about here, you’re way ahead of the game.
Assuming that you have not yet started college, you are at the point of greatest possibility, even if it seems that you have to cram it all into one box by choosing a college. This process will either empower or hinder you, develop or reduce you. And it all depends on what you do with this decision.
On one hand, it makes a lot of sense to choose a college that fits your needs in the four areas we discussed: Academics, Campus Life, Opportunities, and Finances. If you are going to spend four or more years and $100,000+ on a degree, it’s great if you can get paid well, find a rewarding career, and creating a fulfilling life because of it.
However, this isn’t just about ROI. It’s about you and who you will become.
The Benefits of the Perfect College
Of course, there is not perfect college – much like there isn’t a perfect family – but there are colleges and families that function perfectly because everyone involved seeks to make those around them better.
If you choose the perfect college for you, you will benefit greatly from the experience. The setting of the campus, the culture, the attitudes and values of your classmates, and the activities you participate in will feel natural, the perfect balance of challenging and engaging.
As a result, the perfect college will produce the perfect college experience, and you’ll be able to look back in 20 or 30 years at internships, professors, and travel abroad opportunities as key contributors to your success. And that is awesome. But if you take the time and effort required to choose your perfect college, you’ll find the benefits to be even greater than that.
How Choosing the Perfect College Changes You
Asking the questions in this book – first of yourself and then of professors, alumni, and admissions representatives – is not easy, but it’s worth it because of how much ownership you learn to take of the process of choosing and the experience of attending college. However, I’m going to suggest even more important and longer lasting gains from this process: how you change because of it.
If you commit to finding the perfect college, you are voting for yourself. For perhaps the first time, you will stand up – whether in opposition or with full approval – and declare that your life is important and that you are going to play an active role in deciding what to do with it! You recognize that this decision about where to attend college will have a big enough impact on your life to ask the right questions and demand answers.
This isn’t hype or hyperbole; when you vote for yourself in your words and your actions, you give yourself a shot of confidence that fuels you to the next decision and the ones to follow. It may sound weird to you if you haven’t experienced it yet, but trust me: there are few factors more vital to your success in anything than voting for yourself, and that’s what you do when you choose the perfect college… for you.
If you commit to finding the perfect college, you’ll put yourself in the driver’s seat of more than just your college selection. You’ll take your rightful role as the leader of your life.
But if you don’t…
But if you don’t pursue the perfect college for you – and 99% of people won’t – you run the risk of negatively impacting your education and potentially your life
If you choose to ignore the four factors we discussed earlier – Academics, Campus Life, Opportunities, and Finances – you are putting yourself at the whim of a college that may or may not be right for you. By not challenging an admissions representative with specific questions in these areas, you are leaving much of your experience to chance.
Just so you know that this isn’t theory, when I chose to attend Bucknell University, it was as my safety school following a tumultuous and erratic application process. Rejected by my top two schools – UVA and Penn – I was bitter and resigned myself to a consolation prize in Bucknell. (Note: Bucknell is a great school; my attitude was based in delusion. Forgive me… and pay attention to the lesson.) My lousy attitude limited my investigation and exploration of what Bucknell could offer me in these four factors, so I ended up settling for a bare bones college experience instead of making it the perfect school for me. I look back with regret on the opportunities I missed because I wasn’t aware of them; this is the curse of a second-best college.
Let’s break down each factor as it might appear at a second-best college:
- Academics: If you don’t choose a school that has the academics you need for your Best Career, you are setting yourself to be ill-equipped for the work world. In that same vein, if your academic needs change, you need to be willing to transfer, or you’ll be stuck with second-best.
- Campus Life: College is four years of creating habits. Many people create habits in college aren’t in line with the life they want to live after college, so the years following graduation are a difficult transition.
- Opportunities: When you know what’s available to you, you’re more likely to make the most of it. But if you don’t know or don’t prepare for the opportunities that college has for you, you find yourself scrambling to participate in enriching experiences or being left behind by friends and classmates who were more intentional about what they wanted out of college.
- Finances: This burns more people than you can imagine. With a blind eye to the impact of their decisions, students rack up unimaginable debt that can stay with them for decades. (Yes, I know this from experience.) Worse yet are those who discover that the job they want will not pay as much as they thought. The importance of finances in choosing your perfect college cannot be overstated.
As I noted a few paragraphs ago, the biggest benefit to taking the time and effort to choosing the perfect college for you is the investment that you are making in yourself. You are voting for you!
In contrast, if you don’t employ the four factors when you choose a college, you are opting instead for other influences, including family pressure, impressing others with the status of your school (in the form of U.S. News rankings), etc. In essence, you are allowing others’ votes to count more than your own. In doing that, you create the possibility of blaming someone else for an unsatisfying college experience, making you more of a victim than someone who makes things happen.
I’m not trying to doom-and-gloom you; I’m trying to encourage you to change this decision from “lesser of two evils” to a defining moment in your life when you took control of your future. This doesn’t have to be the first time you’ve done that, but it’s a great opportunity to see what you’re made of… and who you want to be in the future.
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