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  • Jamie Wallace

Making Choices about College



Finding the "right" college does not have to be an ordeal. There are over 4,000 colleges in the US. In particular there are 2,200 four-year colleges and universities and nearly 2,000 two-year colleges. Add colleges in other countries and the numbers expand.

The "right" college is a place where a student feels academically challenged, socially and intellectually engaged. The right college is a place to thrive, to learn, to grow.

The news, internet, parents, and friends all focus on how difficult it is to get into college. The truth is that there are 50 highly selective colleges that accept under 25% of applicants. Those 50 colleges are the ones everyone knows including Stanford, Berkeley, Duke, Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Cal Tech, and UCLA, etc.

Apart from those highly selective colleges there are Community Colleges that accept all qualified students who are 18 or have graduated from high school.

Of the 2,150 four-year colleges the acceptance rates vary tremendously up to around 80%.

What this means is that almost every student can choose from a wide variety of schools. This is true despite academics, testing, or financial resources. The lower your grades and test scores, the narrower your choices will be, but there are still choices, even excellent ones available to you.

Choice is the focus of college planning and the college search. There are hundreds of good colleges, but you and your family might not have heard of them so they are off the “college radar.” Some students do know about the numerous excellent colleges and are stymied by the huge range of schools to choose from. Too much choice is not a good thing either.

Remember one important concept: Where you go is not as important as what you do when you get there. Making those choices wisely is an important factor, but what you do once you are in college is even more important.

What to do?

First and foremost, students need to be intimately involved in the research and the process. It is perhaps simplistic to say, but it is the student who is going to school, not the parents, friends, and relations!

A student who sits back and passively allows parents, friends, counselors and college rankings choose has a much higher likelihood of being disappointed. Listen to suggestions, then do the research. Check out the college website, read through published information, look for student comments, arrange a visit virtually or physically.

The essential question a student must be able to answer is whether he or she truly wants a college education. The statistics show that college graduates earn almost twice as much as non-college graduates, and this must be seriously considered. The income gap is a prime motivator, but the real question is does the student want to learn more, is she curious? If a student is not committed to education after high school, then perhaps college is not the road to tred. There are many paths to becoming an engaged, happy, and successful adult, not all of them go through college.

Some students need a little time off, a year or a semester. These are called gap years or gap semesters. Apply to college, choose which one of the acceptances to go with, then defer enrollment if the college allows it. Spend that year or semester doing an internship, traveling, working, learning; then start college refreshed.

Remember one important point. Nothing is written in stone.

  • Many students transfer from one college to another.

  • Not everyone goes to college directly after high school. Some people decide to come back to education after a break.

  • Some people start working, then later realize they want a college degree.

  • Others find their ways in the world without going to college.

  • Some become craftsmen, designers, musicians, plumbers, electricians, air craft mechanics and so on.

  • Others pursue art, music, theater, writing, computer science and more.

There are many paths, those with persistence and passion will find their way.

An excellent example is JPL Engineer and Mission Landing Specialist Adam Steltzner. He flunked geometry, struggled in school, dropped out of college, and was told he “wouldn’t amount to much.” In his early twenties, he became curious about why the stars appeared to move, enrolled in a community college physics class and found his passion. He went from community college to UC Davis to Cal Tech to University of Wisconsin where he got his PhD. He was on the team that figured out a remarkably novel way to land a rover on Mars. If he had traveled a different path, who knows if he would have been so creative.

For students ready to embark on the college expedition, do the homework, think about the type of person you are or want to be, consider what type of learning atmosphere suits you the best, and above all think positively about where you want to spend the next part of your young life. Ignore the clamor, the well-meaning advice, trust yourself and your intuition. Choose a college where you feel inspired, excited, curious, and involved.

For more information on how to successfully perform a college search contact your college counselor and guidance counselor. If you'd like more help, keep an eye on this site and read the blog posts. If you need more help, contact me


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