9 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Choosing a College

college lecture hallOne of the advantages of having a teenage babysitter who is more like a second daughter than an employee is the chance to live parenting moments vicariously before they happen for your child. Right now she's in full college visit mode. Hence, we are wrapped up in how to choose a college.

Her parents are taking care of all of the important stuff -- tuition, transferring AP credits, etc. But what about the stuff they don't tell you about in the books or at the high school guidance office?

Aren't there things you wish you'd known when you were choosing a college? As I watch her try to figure out what she's going to do with the rest of her life, I'm realizing there's a lot more I want my daughter to know when she picks a school:


1. Following your best friend/boyfriend doesn't guarantee anything. My best friend and I chose the same college -- although ironically it wasn't to be together. Good thing too, we fell apart within months. Fast forward a decade and a half, and we say "happy birthday" on Facebook once a year. That's it.

9 things every kid should know about picking a college2. Getting far from home isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's the dream of just about every kid, isn't it? But take it from someone who only went two hours from home ... when you have a raging case of bronchitis and want nothing more than to roll up in your own comforter in your own bed, it really stinks having to ride a bus for several hours and then hike to your mom's office with your suitcase. Sometimes close to home means close to comfort.

3. Don't knock the culture shock. A friend went from Connecticut to North Carolina for college and lasted all of one semester -- she just didn't feel comfortable in a culture that was so different from everything she'd ever known.

4. The biggest debt doesn't come from the biggest names. When you think college debt, you think the biggies, right? The private Ivies? Actually, a look at what class of 2011 grads owed shows that's not always the case -- you can have just as high, if not higher, a debt load graduating from a public university. Don't ignore private schools when you're searching -- they might offer better scholarships!

5. Big name schools don't guarantee you a better job. The debt load isn't all you need to consider when it comes to cost. What about after school. If you think the big name will guarantee you a job in this market, you've got another think coming.

6. It's OK to be undeclared. The average high schooler is 17 when they graduate. If you don't know what you want to do with the rest of your life at 17, you are COMPLETELY NORMAL. Don't lock yourself into something you're going to hate just because the college wants you to declare a major.

7. Community college is perfect for the undeclared major. If you can't make up your mind, don't spend $54,000 a year trying to figure it out. Just don't.

8. A gap year is OK. I keep beating that "I dunno" drum, don't I? Well, considering 46 percent of students who enter an American college fail to graduate within six years, there's a reason! Plenty of kids heading off to college are doing it because they think they should, not because they actually know what they want to do -- and in the long run that will backfire.

9. It's not worth it if you don't enjoy it. I'm not saying you will love getting up for every 8 a.m. chemistry class or taking every test. But there's intense pressure on kids these days to get into the best school possible and then to power through in as few semesters as possible. Slow down! These are the last years you really get to have FUN ... and yes, you can do that without showing up at every kegger. And if you can't, come home. Start over. Failure IS an option. And about that 8 a.m. class ... once you're there, don't even waste my money scheduling it!

What do you wish someone had told you when you were choosing a college?


Image via Sean MacEntee/Flickr

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