John Foster is an Austin, TX based Program Advisor and Content Writer for SPI Study Abroad. When he’s not leading high school study abroad programs in Europe, you can find him munching on tacos, biking around the city, or munching on some different tacos. His passions are (in no particular order of importance) international education, his niece, sailing, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and tacos.
Sorry to Burst Your Bubble, But The Perfect College is a Myth
Well, it’s college applications time again! Right this very moment, millions of high schoolers are undoubtedly feeling pretty darn stressed with this looming next stage in life and the exhausting tasks that are supposed to prepare you for it. Late nights come after long days, your tolerance to caffeine is annoyingly high -- and that all-important application essay isn’t going to write itself.
But, all this stress is for good reason, right? I mean, it’s what you’ve worked so hard for all these years -- setting yourself up to be accepted and thrive in the perfect college which will then lead to the perfect job, the perfect family, and the perfect life. Not to be too big of a downer on this one, but, truth is, the perfect college is a myth. When looking at where you want to spend the next four years of your life, consider the following:
Focus on what you want to learn. Not a dream experience you want to have.
Ask yourself, ‘What do I want to do with my degree?’ and know that your answer could very well change before you leave college. Education is a journey, so don’t be rigidly attached to a particular path. Still, though, the education you receive is a set of building blocks for your professional and personal skills. Focus on what feels like the best fit for who you are as an individual -- not the vision of college you had growing up.
Collaborative classes led by industry influencers and a peer network with similar aspirations are way more important than a school’s girl-to-guy ratio or whether the football team is BCS ranked.
Understand that it’s not just about the school’s reputation.
Not everyone goes to Stanford, and that’s okay. You may find a program in the field you want to study, with professors you want to learn from -- and it might be at the state school in the next town over. If so, don’t discount it just because the school’s name doesn’t carry top-tier cachet. One of the worst things to be when searching for a college is inflexible. Be open to a good opportunity, even if it’s not where you thought it would be. Your parents – and your future – may thank you.
Trust your instincts.
This is an important one. There are a lot of unknowns when searching for a college, so the need to trust your gut is important -- that way, a little nagging feeling doesn’t turn into a mistake realized long after it was made. Do your research, and if something feels like a deal breaker, keep looking.
That said, don’t assume that because something isn’t perfect, it’s a deal breaker. It’s about finding the right college -- not the perfect one. You can be critical without being unyielding.
Don’t enroll somewhere just because it ‘checks off all the boxes’.
Active Greek life, check, nationally recognized business school, check, weird, universally loved 50 year old burnout that drives a pink bike around campus, check. What’s wrong with that?
Well, nothing, so long as you think that college is simply “the next step”. The truth is, though, it’s not. It’s the pinnacle of your educational pursuits: a sandbox where you can test ideas, skills, and your instincts before using them for a real company with a real salary and binding expectations. You’re not going to find the right education for you by simply judging it by a checklist. Talk with professors, talk with students, ask them candid questions, and use their answers to solidify how you feel about the opportunity. Apply personal critical thinking to qualifying schools, rather than simply researching just as a task.
College is not simply the next step; it’s where you learn how to be the person you’d always imagined yourself becoming. Find the right college for you by being realistic about your expectations and open to opportunity. Challenge your perceptions of the perfect college. It’s not about where your friends are going or how high a college is ranked in a survey -- it’s about knowing what you want and how you want to get it, and then finding the best fit for that.
When you master that, you’ll find that it’s not just good advice for college – it’s good advice for life itself.
About the Author: Founded in 1996, SPI Study Abroad offers high school study abroad programs for college credit in Spain, France, Italy, Costa Rica and China. SPI’s interactive language immersion programs combine inspiring global leadership experiences, volunteer service projects, and exciting travel excursions where language and culture truly come to life!