Many students and their parents are using this summer to work on a list of schools to visit and/or apply to in the fall (we’ll talk about why not to visit in the summer next week). During this process, it’s important to consider why you want to add a school to the list—is there a sound reason, or could you be making a costly mistake? Here are ten reasons to avoid:
1. 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.
2. Prestige. There’s nothing wrong with going to a highly selective school; you’ll have access to a great education and alumni support that can help you land a job. But 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.
3. Your friends are going there. Just because they’re your friends doesn’t mean you share the same goals, study habits, or other preferences. Going to college is the first real step to becoming independent, and choosing a school should be about thinking for yourself.
4. 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 is a school or schools you’d like to go to but that seem out of reach financially, apply anyway (you might even be able to get the fee reduced or apply online free). Studies show that most students don’t pay the “sticker price;” schools routinely offer aid packages that put them within reach. Cost alone is not a good reason to apply to a college.
5. 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.
6. You know you’ll get in. Everyone needs a “safety” school, but you should give as much thought about choosing that school or schools as you do with your “reach” schools. There are colleges out there that routinely accept the majority of their student body with grades and test scores below yours that you’d actually like to attend (and that could offer you a sizeable discount through merit aid).
7. They offer the major you’re interested in. If they’re also in a great location, are the size you’re looking for, and match your other criteria, 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?
8. Your mother/grandfather/uncle went there. Again, does it match your criteria? If not, being a legacy is not as important as attending a college that’s a great fit for you.
9. 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 to help you get some experience and identify what you’d like to study.
10. It’s the only school you’ve seen and you liked 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.