Decisions, Decisions…..*sigh* by Quinton McArthur
Is (Fill in the Blank) University the right school for me?
This year I have been helping my little cousin Danielle* with her college search process. She is the first in her family to attend college and although she has been a marvelous student in high school, she was really uncertain about the process of identifying schools and how to apply to college. Nevertheless, Big Cuz Q stepped in and has been providing some advice on the process. The good news is that she got accepted to a bunch of schools all over the country. The better news is that she has whittled down her list of 12 schools down to 3. (Whewww!!! That’s been a journey.) We are now down to 3 schools.
Over the past 2 weeks or so, we have been having conversations about how to select the final school that she will actually attend. I thought that the conversation might be relevant to you too, so here it is.
This is our conversation from last night.
Brrrrriinnggggng, brrrrriiinnngggggg, brrriiinngggg (That’s the sound of a telephone. I know that everyone has ringtones with Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and Lil Wayne now, but I’m old-skool. I like the classic telephone ring on my phone. So what? Sue me)
Brrrrriinnggggng, brrrrriiinnngggggg, brrriiinngggg
Danielle: Hey Q.
Q: You can’t call nobody?!?!?! Where have you been?
D: LOL. I’m doing well. Super busy, but I’m okay.
Q: Is now a good time to talk?
D: Ahhh, sure.
Q: You’re down to 3 schools. Have you decided which school to attend in the fall?
D: No. But it really doesn’t matter to me. I’ll make it work wherever I go. I’ll just go to the school that gives me the most money.
Q: Uhhhh, well…..I am sure that you will do well academically wherever you choose to attend, but I would discourage you from choosing your college ONLY by the amount of money that the schools give you. Now, I’m no fool…
D: Are you sure? Just kidding! LOL.
Q: Oh! You’ve got jokes! No, I am not a fool. I know that the amount of financial aid is a consideration in your college selection process, but it should not be the sole means of selecting a college. This decision is bigger than just the money.
D: I don’t know Q. I mean, I’m just thinking about my parents and my brother….They’ve got a whole bunch of bills to pay and I don’t really want to be a burden on them. I’m trying to help them out too, you know?
Q: I get that Danielle. I really do. But what I am telling you is that you won’t be helping out your family if you go to the cheapest college and then find out that it is not the right place for you and leave without a degree. In that situation, you wouldn’t be helping anyone out. Your goal is not to ATTEND a college, it is to GRADUATE from a college.
I know that this is hard for you, but you need to look at some other factors in choosing your school.
D: Okay, so then I’ll just go to ————— College! It’s the most prestigious!
Q: Well, that certainly wouldn’t be a bad choice, but you need to throw out the rankings. Forget about the name. You should try to focus on factors like location, class size, academic programs, research opportunities, diversity, internships, and factors like that.
You should ask yourself questions like, “Do I want to be in community with lots of other high achieving students or do I want to be in an environment where more students are still in the process of actualizing their potential?”
I know that you enjoy being a part of the Praise Dance Team and Gospel Choir at your church; you might want to ask about extracurricular activities and campus life.
D: You’re right, I do like my church community and would like to continue developing my faith. I also like to play tennis. Hmmmmmm. But I have a friend at ————— College. I’ll just go there with her.
Q: The absolute worst way you could choose a college is to attend a place just because your friend is there. You and your friend are two different people with two different sets of talents, abilities, interests, goals for life, and needs. Just because her college is a good fit for her, does not mean that it will be a good fit for you.
D: That makes sense.
Q: But this is a very important issue. THE PEOPLE!!!! You should enjoy the people at your school. At college you will meet lots of students and hopefully develop lots of new friendships that will last a lifetime. Finding a community of like-minded, cool people who will be your friends is going to be important. You will be studying, living, partying (just a little), growing, and learning with them for 4 years.
Also, you should also feel confident that there are administrators and faculty members who will look out for you with opportunities for internships, research, on-campus jobs, study abroad trips, and jobs. You need people who will look out for you when you don’t know what questions to ask.
D: That’s a good point. That’s some reasonable advice.
Q: I’m a reasonable man Danielle! Have you ever known me to lead you astray? I’ve got GREAT advice! Seriously though, choosing your community is important. The best way to choose your community would be to actually visit the campuses and meet the people. However, in your case, you should just talk to people over the phone and see what they say.
D: Okay Q, I’ll give the Office of Admission at the schools a call and see if I can talk with some of the students.
Q: Oh, one more thing Danielle! You need to know the difference between WANTS and NEEDS.
D: Wants and needs?
Q: Yes, wants and needs.
The school that is the right fit for you will be able to give you ALL of what you need and some of the things that you want. Your job is to figure out your NEEDS. Some of the things that you may NEED to get out of a college experience are improved writing skills, or an internship every year, or studying abroad in Japan, or majoring in sociology. Whatever, you NEED to have from a college experience, you should know up front before you make your decision.
Once you figure out your NEEDS, then you can consider some of your WANTS (like nice dorm rooms, or how pretty the campus looks, or how many cute guys attend the school, etc.)
D: So you’re saying that I have to figure out what is most important for me. I guess I can do that.
Q: One thing that you’re doing is well is asking for advice. You know that I give great advice, LOL…..
D: LOL. Yeah, right…
Q: ….but you should feel free to ask other people whom you trust too! Talk to your parents, teachers, guidance counselors, people at the colleges you are considering (especially students). And of course, take their advice with a grain of salt and apply it to your personal situation.
D: Okay, I can do that
D: So does of all of that make for a “good match” like the college admissions people tell me?
Q: For the most part, Yes. A college that is a “good match” is a place that reflects your individual values and will help you to be the best Danielle that you can be. A “good match” is a place where you will get ALL of what you need as a student and some of what you want.
So, do you feel better about how to think about your decision?
D: I feel better, but it doesn’t make the decision any easier.
Q: You’re right. But trust me Danielle, whichever school you choose, it will be the right decision. You are smart, beautiful, hard working, super talented, and have a great head on your shoulders. You’ve already been accepted to a bunch of incredible schools and we are all very proud of you. Danielle, you will know which school is right for you and I am sure that you will make the right decision. And at the end of the day, the entire family will support you, regardless of where you choose to go…..
D: (Mild giggling)
Q: What’s so funny?
D: (More giggling) You are so corny.
Q: I know…..and you know that I’m right, too. So do some research. Think about the schools a little more and call me back if you want to talk more about this. I’ve got a job to go to in the morning, and I’ve got to get some sleep.
D: Okay, old-timer. LOL. Seriously, though, thanks Q. I’ll call you next week.
Q: Bye Bye. TTYL
If you are reading this right now and are still deciding between MIT and some other Big Name University with lots of money and prestige, I hope that this is helpful to you as you make your decision. Like Danielle, I am sure that wherever you choose to attend, you will be wildly successful. The most important thing is that you are satisfied with your decision and that you GRADUATE from the school you choose.
*Danielle is a pseudonym that has been used to protect the identity of my cousin. She does not like for me to tell people that we are actually related. JK. Luv ya Taj
PS – If you’ve been admitted to us, come to MIT! I’ll buy you a fresh Mr. Q Cucumber!