Day 2: How to Choose a College

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Free Email Video Series – Day 2

Don’t forget your homework -> Worksheet/Exercise: Your college criteria Day 2: How to Choose a College

Here’s a quick run-down of what you’ll learn in this video.

• The importance of rational criteria (in an irrational decision-making process)
• Introduction to the criteria
• How to have the conversation

When I chose to apply to Dartmouth, I was not being completely rational. I had been on the campus when I was younger, and I remembered eating in the dining hall, where there was a soft-serve ice cream machine. There was no need to ask someone behind a counter to fill up a cone. I could just walk up, grab a cone from the box, and open the valve as a thick stream of creamy lusciousness spilled out (and I did spill a lot…).

So when it came time to pick a college, I chose vanilla-chocolate swirl. Totally logical. Totally rational.


The fact is that a large portion of the decision about where to attend college is completely irrational. And I honor that irrationality. But only to a point.

You should not spend $300,000 on a whim.

You should not commit four years of your life on a lark.

You should not dedicate yourself to accomplishing a goal that you don’t fully embrace—or even understand.

How do you avoid making a mistake in choosing a college?

You have to make the process as rational as possible.

And in order to create an orderly, rational, and careful decision-making process, you have to identify the criteria by which you will make this hefty decision.

In this video, I lay out the criteria that are important in making your decision. I divide the criteria into seven main categories, each of which can be parsed further into sub-categories.

Here are the main categories of criteria by which I think all students should examine the colleges that are right for them.

Finances: does the college fit your higher education budget?

Prestige: How important is it that you attend a school that has a brand name?

Academics: does the college deliver the sort of structures and programs in a way that fit best with your learning preferences so that you can get great grades and experience success?

Activities: does the college offer you the opportunity not only to get engaged with your community, but enable you to develop essential soft skills for the future?

Student life: does the community of students share your basic values and offer you opportunities not only to have fun, but to expand your social circle—and your world?

Atmospherics: is the college environment squarely in your comfort zone, thereby allowing you to relax and embrace the challenges and opportunities that await you?

Admissions chances: how difficult might it be for you to be admitted to a particular college?

Notice the leading criterion: finances.

This often the one that ends up at the bottom of the list. And what is usually at the top of the list?

Admissions chances.

I like to turn the tables. I am a contrarian. But there is a method to my madness.

As I have said in earlier lessons, the college selection process is mostly about the difficult decisions we have to make that narrow our criteria and clearly reflect our priorities. If we don’t start with finances, we can get ourselves into a peck of trouble down the line.

And if we start with admissions chances, we might rule out outstanding options that fulfill all our educational wants and needs simply because we were assuming that a college that is difficult to get into is necessarily better for us (or worse, we might assume that what we want and need does not exist at all but the most highly selective universities).

The other thing that I always emphasize in this process is the set of academic criteria. Too often we forget that we are choosing a school, not a resort. We focus on the relative comfort of dormitories while ignoring the classroom experience.

We research dining hall menus ad infinitum while paying little attention to the structure of the curriculum. We are wowed by climbing walls and lazy rivers, while we forget to even look at relevant academic facilities like laboratories, art studios, or specialized libraries.

As we explore these criteria, you undoubtedly will have questions and concerns of your own. You may be confused as to how to measure certain preferences, and you may be uncertain as to how to research colleges that fit those preferences.

Happily we provide the opportunity for you to share those questions with us. Just jump into our College Admissions Experts Facebook group. There you can ask your questions, and either I or a member of my team will respond so that you can stay on track toward identifying colleges that fit you well.

I also encourage you to complete the “homework” for this installment of our video course. This assignment will help you sort out your priorities as individuals and as a family. As I mention in the video, I recommend that each family member complete the assignment individually, and then come together around the kitchen table for a conversation.

Rarely does every family member share precisely the same priorities. But it is important that your family create a unified front as you embark on the college search process.

After all, you wouldn’t want to do something crazy like choose a college just because it offered all-you-can-eat ice cream, would you? 🙂

See you next time when we will delve into how to choose the right major.

Next Lesson in 24 hours via Email: How to choose a major