As a new week dawns, a number of you have a major decision on the horizon. With just over a week left until the May 1st candidate reply deadline, the Class of 2011 admitted students who have yet to sign the bottom line of an enrollment form are probably feeling a mix of anxiety, confusion, and a tinge of excitement. Clearly this is one of the biggest decisions you have needed to make so far in your life, and you should be commended for taking your time and focusing your energies. And they say "getting in" is the hardest part!
So how do you choose? How do you make this big decision? What is the right choice? All these questions are justified, but in the end it is you and you alone who has to make the choice. Choosing which college / university to attend is one of those life-altering decisions where you must weigh all the factors, big and small. This decision-making process challenges your ability to self analyze your personal priorities and preferences while forcing you to attempt to predict the next four years of your life. And not only does this choice impact those next four years, it will leave an eternal mark on you as the school becomes your alma mater and an important line on your resume.
Now I understand that last paragraph did not help and probably added to your level of stress, so let me see if I can be of assistance throughout the rest of this post. See I have ten years of experience watching students just like all of you struggle with which school will be the right one. As well, way back when I also struggled with making the Big Decision. It can be a daunting task but if you approach the decision-making process with an organized mind and game plan, you will find clarity and hopefully the right choice will illuminate.
For the last week I have contemplated what to write in this pseudo advice column, and though I had some good thoughts and notes it was not until this past weekend did I have that "eureka" moment and decide which direction to take this entry. See I made a Big Decision this weekend, and my process parallels to a degree what you all are focusing on currently.
My big decision was a big purchase ... and though I don't like to link the process of choosing a college to dollars and sense, I do think the decision-making processes are related. My decision involved research, pro-con lists, discussion with others, and actually engaging with the item. My decision will also be a long-term commitment that will direct my life for years to come. OK, now the big reveal...
This weekend I purchased a new television ... but not any old TV, rather a 32 inch, flat-screen, LCD, HDTV dream television. Now my Tivos, Slingbox, home theatre system, Playstation, and other electronic gadgets have an expensive leader to frame the whole entertainment experience. I am already in love with my Sharp Aquos. But this is not going to turn into an entry about my new love affair with my TV (though that entry will probably come soon), but rather how my decision to purchase my new HDTV can help you choose the right college for you.
How you ask, well lets look at the parallels:
Self-analysis and Research
The first thing you must do when approaching a Big Decision is to determine what is it you want/need and then research all the aspects behind the decision. For me, I knew that my passion for television and DVDs and gaming would never be completely satisfied unless I was able to see it all in a crisp, clear 1080i resolution -- that was my self-analysis. Then it was time to use the web and see what the best choices out there were, and become as knowledgeable as possible about HDTV offerings.
For you all, you probably have done the self-analysis in selecting which schools you would apply to. It is a good idea to re-consider those big questions you asked before, and it you didn't do one now if the time. Ask yourself the big questions, and be honest with yourself when it comes to the answers:
- What kind of a school do I want to attend for four years? Location, atmosphere?
- What kind of student body am I looking for? Do I think I will mesh well with the current students?
- What kind of academic opportunities will be available to me as an undergraduate, and what am I actually looking for?
- Same question, but relate it to extracurricular opportunities. Which is more important to me - academics or social life or a mix of both?
- What about the professors? Are they accessible? Can I see myself learning from them? Do I want to learn from them?
- Will I be proud in four years to call myself an alumnus of the school?
- Will I / Can I make a difference?
After I made the decision to at least consider the purchase of this new TV, it was time to actually go see them in action. So I visited my local Best Buy and was able to compare my top choices. See their picture quality, the sound, the resolutions, compare the specs, etc. But since there were some TVs I was not able to see in the store, I also used the Internet to virtually tour a number of the options. By visiting I was able to see the size of the TVs, check out the price, and see it in action. Consider this the test drive phase of the decision-making process.
This parallels to you all in the same way -- the visit is crucial in helping to answer the questions of your self-analysis but also to consider fit. The test drive whether on the actual campus or through a virtual visit is all important as you now are really asking the question of whether you can see yourself HAPPY and CONTENT at the school your choice. Just as I had to see the TVs in action to determine size, price, quality ... you all need to see the schools in action to determine if the location, the students, the faculty, the resources are for you.
Input from Others
I was lucky to not making this decision alone ... and I had an "investor" too. See my mother was in town this weekend and helped in the purchase of my new TV, and also since this was going to partially a birthday gift she was invested in the decision-making process. So my discussions with Mom really helped, but we also went to a couple of authority figures to make the decision easier. The guy at Best Buy was amazing and treated this less as a sale but more as providing us with information (an Admissions counselor, not an Admissions officer). Also, feedback on some major web sites helped out -- but just as with College Confidential I considered web comments with a grain of salt. But this input really did help. I went in thinking that a Phillips HDTV was the way to go (Ivy League brand???) and learned that the quality of other models especially Sharp may FIT me and my preferences better (Hopkins???). In the end though, the decision was mine and mine alone.
Clearly you need to talk with others about this decision, and your family (investors?) should be the top of the list. Also gather information from the school's themselves, check out message boards if you feel they work, and just gather as much information as possible. Do not get hung up on myths, stereotypes, or other hearsay -- filter through the information along with your own personal conclusions.
Actually this last point is important. Avoid hearsay, conjecture, myths, rumors - they often are far from the truth: Can I say this any louder. Each and every individual sees each and every college differently. Do your own research, get information directly from the source, and avoid the biased comments to come up with your personal thoughts. There is no cardinal rule that says if you read it or heard it, it must be 100% true. You need to filter through everything.
Related to this point, I also want to encourage you to not consider just statistics and rankings. Remember this is about FIT now and outside rankings can be superficial at best. Statistical analysis should be kept to the process of choosing which schools to apply to. Throw US News out the window; ignore the numbers that can actually be manipulated to prove any point you want; avoid side-by-side number comparisons of schools. It is time to focus on the intangibles. Numbers can not predict whether you will be happy for the next four years, whether you will be challenged, whether you will be stimulated. The top schools are all top schools - it now comes down to FIT, and a percentage, formula, or statistics can not determine FIT.
OK, I step off my soap box and get back to the mission at hand...
Pro / Con Lists
I can not emphasize this step enough. After I had gathered all the information, spoken with all the people, and actually seen the TVs, it was time to stop and compare. Mentally I weighed everything, and then I put pen to paper and for each brand and TV I listed the pros and cons. I am an overwhelmingly organized person and by cataloging my thoughts about each product I was able to get closer to making the right decision for me.
Now for all of you, the thought of lists may be laughable, but take my word for it -- they actually work. It is time for you to really start thinking about FIT. Write down the name of each school you are considering, then draw two columns under each school's name -- one with a "+" and one with a "-". Now start listing the strengths and weaknesses. If you were successful with your self-analysis, now is the time to match your thoughts of what you want to your opinions about each school. Location, size, friendliness, professors, activities, cost, opportunities -- list everything from the most important detail to the most minimal. Nothing should be left out. Consider it a personal brain dump that in the end will bring clarity, focus, and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
STILL CONFUSED? STILL CAN'T MAKE THE DECISION?
Well then you are in the same boat I was this weekend. After this full decision-making process, I was still torn. So it was time for the final stage - THE IMPULSE PURCHASE. I returned to Best Buy and said let's do it, and now I am the proud owner of heaven in 32 inches.
How does this relate to you all -- simple -- CHOOSE HOPKINS. Just follow the impulse ... you all know Hopkins is the best.
Obviously I am kidding. I know this is a difficult decision and maybe in the end Hopkins is the right place for you OR maybe it is not. Hopefully by following my advice, you will find the right path for you. Don't focus on myths and conjectures ... make your own conclusions and stick with them.
If all else fails, listen to your gut! In the end, know one thing ... once you make your final selection you have found the RIGHT SCHOOL. It is one of the hidden truths of the admissions process, once you commit you begin to mold your choice into the perfect school for you.
College is what you make of it - go out there and be successful.
Best of luck!
And choose Hopkins ... wink, wink.