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MIT staff blogger Quinton McArthur

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

Quinton: Danielle!

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

Q: Perfect.

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!

20 responses to “Decisions, Decisions…..*sigh*”

  1. namz says:


    even though i am not considering entering mit this year…will surely put to use this advice for my current selections…great advice mr q :D

  2. Armin says:

    After that unknown tangerine in your early post, now you’re drinking Qcumber beverage.

    Thanks for the advices smile

    and I got a kebab in my ReCaptcha!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Q: Uhhhh, well…..I am sure that you will do well academically wherever you choose to attend

    But later…

    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.

  4. Quinton says:

    @ Anonymous

    1. You can do well academically and still not graduate from college. America is full of college dropouts who left their schools in good academic standing.

    2. Many students leave school because they are homesick and miss their familiar environment.

    3. In order not to get homesick, students have to get connected to people at their college (other students, administrators, and faculty). The sooner you do that, the more successful you will be both academically and personally.

    My message isn’t contradictory, so much as supplementary. All I am saying is that you can do well academically, but there is more to the college experience than just getting As. Getting As alone will probably not make you happy with your college experience.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Just use the pugh concept to decide. smile

  6. Hamsika '13 says:

    awesome post smile hehe, q cumber

  7. I have to say that I think your reasoning on the money issue (i.e. not graduating because she didn’t like the cheaper college) was a bit of a non sequitur. I’m not sure whether you were trying to give her some unrelated advice, or trying to convince her not to make a choice because of financial reasons. I do see the big “ONLY,” but at the same time, I think (for the majority of kids) the advice would go more along the lines of, “You’re not going to ATTEND a college; you’re going to EXPERIENCE a college.” If that makes sense.

  8. Quinton says:

    I certainly agree with your statement, “You’re not going to ATTEND a college; you’re going to EXPERIENCE a college.” It makes perfect sense to me.

    However, for some kids, the differentiation between “attending” and “experiencing” a college campus is too esoteric. You have to unpack what “experiencing” a college campus means or else students will operate in an economically rational manner, which doesn’t always work best when it comes to college choice.

    As for YOU, I hope that you have had a chance to visit campus, had all of your tough questions answered, and will choose to EXPERIENCE MIT this fall wink

  9. Amethyst says:

    Aww, Quinton–it’s really tough, isn’t it?? I am having that peculiarly uncomfortable feeling of buyer’s remorse that comes from not being absolutely sure about a college I have already committed to. I’ve decided to probably turn down my Harvard waitlist and go to Vanderbilt freshman year, and I’d been pretty happy about the idea (although wishing I’d applied to more colleges), but then I started reading student reviews and having doubts. I know it’s a great school, and the smaller, more discussion-oriented courses would be more conducive to learning as an underclassmen than being taught in a large auditorium by a TA might be, but I’m worried–I’ve heard a lot of people say that Vandy kids aren’t intellectual, that they’re there for the name, and that they’re really into the popularity game…
    I hadn’t planned to stay there a full four years anyway because I wanted to go somewhere more science-heavy once I had my feet under me, but now I have worries which I don’t even know are legitimate…I know this is totally not related to MIT (although I am a fan smile), but what you said still applies. Should I just ignore the haters and make the most out of the opportunity? Any words of wisdom? I know I’ll do great anywhere I go, because I know how to learn and love learning, but still…

  10. Anonymous says:

    Your post is very helpful but I’m still confused. I think that I and most other students are unsure of exactly what we’re looking for. I also find it difficult to believe that many students will choose a college and end up hating it so much as to drop out of it, especially after having narrowed it down to Your post is very helpful but I’m still confused. I think that I and most other students are unsure of exactly what we’re looking for. I also find it difficult to believe that many students will choose a college and end up hating it so much as to drop out of it, especially after having narrowed it down to <5 choices and choosing colleges to apply to. What if I had only gotten into that college that offered the cheapest package?

    I guess my question is, how do I figure out what I NEED when I am not even sure what I want to major in?

    I never thought about it that way. Thanks for your post and for your response in advance =)

    @ Amethyst, I’ve heard plenty of people say similar things about Harvard. Remember Vanderbilt is big enough that you can pick and choose your friends.

  11. Just committed to MIT!!!

  12. Puchi '14 says:

    Right there with ya, Aakanksha =D
    MIT and its students were incredible throughout the admissions process, I simply couldn’t refuse. I’m so excited about next year!!
    I must say, I was very disappointed to see that the other schools actually fit the stereotypical snobby attitude (primarily admissions officers and such! awful).
    Oh well! MIT ftw.

  13. Hey there. I’ve got a question about transferring, but I don’t want to email the admissions office (they’re probably busy with the ’14 guys), so I thought I’d ask here:

    If I try to transfer to MIT after my first year of college, will my high school grades matter? Moreover, will they matter less if I transfer after my second year? And finally, will my senior year high school grades matter or the ones before it too?

    (I messed up my junior year in HS so I didn’t apply to MIT, but now I’d like to… )

  14. Josh '13 says:

    “Actualizing their potential”? Really? Come on now, surely there are less convoluted ways of saying that to your cousin. grin

    That said, excellent post. It dovetails pretty nicely with what I’ve seen in my first year here: you want a place that matches who you want to be, not necessarily who you are now (surprise, you’ll change in college!), and the path between the two is the people you’ll meet.

    To the ’14s: best wishes on your decision, whatever it winds up being!

  15. '14 says:

    Q YOU ARE SO COOL. I’M COMING TO MIT BECAUSE OF YOU! jk jk, but i did enroll smile

  16. '14 says:

    *clarification: jk- not just because of you. but seriously man you are one funny guy.

  17. Armin says:

    @ Future Transfer?

    High school transcript is one of the transfer application requirements. I suggest you to transfer earlier because usually you lose some of your credits by transferring to a new school. More likely, if you are minding your high school grades and you’re thinking about lowering their effect, then you’re absolutely making a mistake. Don’t stick in your background and try to be cool.

    You can apply after the first year and once again in second year, they keep your records and you can indicate that you’ve applied before.

  18. Armin says:

    @ Future Transfer?
    For a deeper understanding, I suggest you to read the italic lines at the bottom of the page once again. Also go through related blog entries which are listed -on that page- on the left side.

  19. Thanks for the reply, Armin. I’m not worried about losing credits, as long as I get admitted.

    I didn’t understand the relevance of the “Match between you and MIT” article and lowering the effect of my high school grades. Could you please elaborate?

  20. That would imply that as long as I have a wonderful temperament or sense of humor, to compelling personal experiences, to a wide range of individual gifts, talents, interests and achievements my grades would matter less.