Get You Some Ed-ju-ma-cation

It’s back to school time, and many of my friends and cousins are gearing up to go back to college, or anticipating their freshmen year. Back in June, I spent every Saturday at a graduation party. These are just family ones; I was invited to a few non-familial graduation parties, but a girl’s got to work! But amidst all the chex mix, family news and small children running wild, I heard a lot of who’s going where and how they decided on their school-to-be. Hearing all this made me nostalgic, remembering all the ACT preps, the tests, the applications, the acceptance letters, the rejection letters, and who could forget the FAFSA? I sure can’t, I still have to fill it out every year. But still there was something thrilling and terrifying about having to make a decision that could alter the course of my life.

Through all of the stress and worrying, through every college visit and audition, the best advice I ever got came unsurprisingly from my father. He told me it didn’t matter a whole lot what college I ended up at, what really counts is what you do when you get there. Now, we shan’t be discussing my personal decisions, accomplishments and mistakes since I graduated from knee socks and plaid skirts to sweet freedom, no. We’re gonna talk about The Process. Why? Because it’s my blog and I said so. That, and some of my younger cousins have that deer-in-headlights look when discussing the future. Me? I’m hoping the world ends in 2012 so I never have to pay off my student loans.

The Process of choosing a college has a lot of variables. Cost, location, size, intended major, and interests. For me, the top two concerns were strong English and music programs and a low cost.

Let’s start with cost. We’ve all hear about how much the cost of higher education has inflated in the past decade or two. Almost every kid out there is gunning for some scholarship or another, and most will have some debts to pay off when they get out into the cold cruel world. Some choose to go to certain state schools to offset these debts, some go for every scholarship on the face of the earth because they chose a private institution, like me. If you’re smart, you’ll do all of the above: look for a cheap school, and apply for every scholarship you can. It doesn’t matter if all you find are $1000 ones–it all adds up, and $1000 will cover your books for a few semesters if you shop right.

Next deal breaker category for me involved my major. I had the fortune of knowing more or less what I wanted to study, which made finding a specific school easier. Friends of mine were less lucky. Many of them were bright, multi-talented girls who could do just about anything–and thus had no clue what to major in! My advice is make a little venn diagram of your strengths, and your likes, and see where they overlap. Then, look for a school that has a strong program in that category. So maybe you’re really good at math and science and working with kids. Maybe you really like kids and science, but you really don’t like math. So look for a school with a good science program, and a good education program. Maybe you’ll be a scientist, maybe you’ll be a teacher, maybe you’ll be a pediatrician. This method narrows the list down, but keeps your options open.

Next is location, location, location. Sometimes, a little distance is a good thing, but then again flying halfway around the world for school makes being home for Christmas difficult. If you live in Northern California, maybe try looking for a Southern California university, instead of one in New York. I chose a happy medium: Carthage College is about a two-hour drive, with a train route between school and home. Far enough, but only just. Another thing to consider with location is job opportunities and places to go around campus. Some schools are miles away from a decent grocery store, which is hard if you don’t have a car on campus. It also makes getting a job or internship for the school year nigh on impossible.
Size is a matter of preference. If sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and Cheers is closed, then you might want to try a smaller school like the University of Redlands in Southern California. If you enjoy the anonymity and excitement of an urban climate, a larger school like University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign would be ideal.

Lastly, we have interests. Many religious people might want a strong campus ministry, not a strong campus nightlife. For you jocks out there, you can mix business with pleasure at schools with good teams and athletic scholarships. Sometimes, you find groups on the fringe of your major. I would never have considered journalism had I not joined the Carthage Current. Students seeking a business degree at the aforementioned University of Redlands will find needed contacts in Delta Sigma Pi, the business fraternity. And one last thing? DO NOT UNDERVALUE GOOD FOOD. I will always remember the rockin’ cafeteria at University of Iowa fondly. Yum.

A good place to find schools listed by cost, size and rank (subjective, maybe but fairly good) is the Forbes list of America’s Best Colleges. Sadly, dear old Carthage isn’t on the 2009 one, but the University of Redlands and the University of Illinois at Champaign both made the cut.

Other lists exist, such as U.S. News’s best College list.

One of the most helpful sources for my classmates and I was FastWeb. It connects you with schools, scholarships and employment opportunities based on your needs and qualifications. I wonder if they’ll give me a scholarship for the free publicity? I’m thinking no, but ah well.

I’ve mentioned a few schools on here (cough, CARTHAGE, cough) but that doesn’t mean I think anymore of them than any other school. Look for the ones that jump out at you. Look for what fits your description in these categories. And of course, remember the best advice I received during The Process:

It’s not where you go, it’s what you do when you get there.


One response to this post.

  1. Nice post, Shannon.
    Personally, I’d like to add a point to that decision-making process, which largely depends on the career path one sets him/herself upon – the reputation of your school. Do people recognize the name of your school? Will it look good on a future resume? Obviously, this is not the most important thing in the world, but it is helpful and can make you stand out (for example, a law student who went to a local university won’t exactly shine next to a law student who went to Harvard). Your school’s reputation is also important when it comes to making connections in the future – professors at well-known schools tend to be more highly paid and therefore more likely to be very connected in their field. This is particularly important for people in my field (animation, or more broadly, art) but it is important in many other fields as well.

    Of course, the most important thing for your future is what you do at school, not which school you go to. But it’s still something to think about.


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