Whether one finds them through handbooks, word-of-mouth, or pamphlets in the mail, after creating one's short list of prospective universities, choosing the right one can be agony. Like real estate, the most important and final criteria for choosing the right university is location, location, location. Prospective students need to consider long and hard if they can actually picture themselves living at a certain campus for four years. Students with concrete interests in pre-professional fields such as pre-law, pre-med, or engineering need schools with strong programs in those fields; otherwise, students less certain about their futures should consider liberal arts colleges, which often provide more options and more sympathetic faculty advice concerning potential career plans. The final most important standards to apply to all potential colleges is availability of financial aid and professor to student ratios. Other than that basic checklist, visitation is key--if the campus looks right, if the weather's right, if it feels right, then it's probably a good match. Once a student settles in, focus on academics rather than too many extracurriculars can lay the foundation for the strong freshmen GPA which can make or break grad school applications.
The University of the South, also know as Sewanee, was the only school for me. It quirks, rich history and traditions from the South merged with those from Oxford created the intellectually stimulating and accepting environment I desired. I was pushed to analyze my beliefs, thoughts, and preconceptions while gaining valuable knowledge and making life changing connections with others students and especially professors. The university genuinely cares for each student and professors support the individual development of each person in their classes. My professors have inspired me to be a teacher with such compassion and drive as they possess. The schools my friends from high school attended did not have these same experiences. They were not shaped as people in each facet of their lives. Many only earned a degree. I have gained a home, a community, a family by attending Sewanee. I was encouraged to be involved in my communicty through service, varsity, intramural, and club sports, student honor and government associations, dorm staff, and the famous Outting Program which allows students to use the beautiful12,000 acre campus to their advantage. There is no other place like it on Earth.
Although acquiring technical knowledge that will be helpful during future careers is one of the most fundamental reasons that students attend college, there is an incredible number of other skills that I have acquired throughout my college experiences that I value just as much as the textbook information that I have absorbed. I appreciate my college experience for teaching me how to balance work and a social life, a task that I believe will be extremely valuable in my future. I also value that I have acquired the ability to work with professors and other academics in a professional and competent manner. I feel that I am fully prepared for any job situation in which I would need to interact with a boss, clients and any other individual. College is one of the most valuable investments that young people can make in their future. It is during my college experience that I have not only gained a great deal of knowledge, but have acquired the skills to succeed in the work environment. College is tremendously valuable because it equips students with the tools to be successful in the future, no matter what field they choose to enter.
A student should have been thinking about their life as an adult before they reach their junior year in high school. Those who do will have made critical course selections and involved themselves in their communities. However, very few sixteen year olds see beyond the next week. So parents, talk to your daughters and sons about more than what clothes they are wearing, or how loud their music is, or why they haven't cleaned their room in the last month. Help them get to know themselves on a deeper level than peer pressure dictates; then they will have a better sense for the right college. Talking should not equate to lecturing, it should be dialogue coming from all points of view. Allow them to have differences of opinion to yours, be open minded to their ideas, and help guide them to build critical thinking skills. The freshman year away from home is quite a shock if it is their first encounter with time or money management; important decisions. With all that good advice being taken, the family has its best chance at selecting a school to match a specific career goal, or support system, or social environment. Good Luck!
If I could go back in time and talk to myself as a high school senior, I would tell myself to remember to SLEEP. As a student, musician, athlete, and generally social individual, I have found that the transition to college presented me with so many opportunities to be involved that I forgot to take care of myself for a while. At the end of my freshman year, I realized that although I had achieved excellence in many activities, I was not very happy or healthy, and therefore could not fully enjoy my success. I would tell my high school self that I will be in college for four years, and I should make sure to take time for myself; activities will still be there in the next semester! I have met many students who do not have positive things to say about their college experience because they are so tired all the time. Their hobbies have become obligations, and they no longer enjoy what they once loved. I would make sure to save myself from that initial confusion, preventing my future self from being overwhelmed and losing myself in trying to be everywhere at once.
Confidence and intelligence are the most important things that I have gotten out of my college experience so far. With confidence I can have the ability to go up against things that I would normally not do because of my fear of the unknown and possibly failure. Confidence is like having a friend on your shoulder wispering in your ear telling you that you can do it. Confidence gets you through the hard times when you don't believe in yourself. With the intelligence that I have gained from the classes that I have attended so far I have more confidence to attempt the items that I would not normally have done. I feel more confident when talking with other students and I don't feel like I am out of my league. I am smart and I can do whatever I put my mind to do. Before I started attending classes at the college, I would have never filled out this application. Confidence and intelligence are two assets that nobody will be able to take away from me. My college experience is making a difference in my life and in the life of my childrens.
The key to finding the perfect fit for college is simply to try it on. Like any article of clothing, a college may seem like the right size or look while still on the hanger, but you will never know for sure until you try it on. Thus, before making any big decisions about where to attend school, both parents and students should make a conscious effort to visit a school. Students should try to stay for a weekend and immerse themselves into campus life. Visit a class or spend some time with current students. Try it on for size and see if it actually fits. If it does not, then they should make the necessary adjustments in their search by finding a smaller or larger school, picking one that comes in different colors or majors, etc. Once they have chosen that perfect fit, they should put it to good use. Gloves may fit like a second skin, but if you never wear them then your hands will stay cold. If a student does not get involved in campus life and their school then it doesn't matter how perfect the school is for them. Get involved. Use it.
My biggest advice is to first investigate then to get involved. The most important thing in deciding on a college is knowing that you will be happy at the school you choose. It is important to visit a campus and get to know the students there to learn about what life is like on campus. I visited Sewanee and fell in love with it. Since I swim, I met some of the members of the swim team who were able to introduce me to other current Sewanee studesnts. I knew instantly that it was a school I wanted to go to. If you are an athlete, I would strongly suggest looking into a school where you can continue in that sport. Sticking with swimming was a great decision. Playing sports and getting involved in clubs and service groups are a great way to meet people on campus, in addition to simply being a great way to spend free time. I helped with Habitat for Humanity and joined the Natural History Society, which helped me make a more diverse group of friends and helped me expand my horizons, help my community, and further my intrests.
Students are often told that college will be the best four years of their life, as if they'll set foot on campus and immediately their life will become wonderful. This simply isn't true: for college to be the best four years of your life, you must be willing to make it the best four years of your life. Where you go to school actually matters less in the long run than the effort you put into the experience of being there. A student at a small school might become depressed that he is not making enough friends, griping that "there's no one like me there." What this really means is "I'm afraid people won't like me." Don't make the mistake of fear and then confuse it for disdain. There are people at every school that will like you, no matter how different you may be from them, but if you expect people to open their horizons and be friends with you, you must be willing to do the same. Do not be afraid to try new things, learn new things, and do new things, and every door at college will be open to you.
As I think back to 2008, which seems so very long ago, I realize how unprepared I was for te transition to college. I was so excited to be free from my parents and able to live my life without their rules. However, if I had known then that this freedom I desired would not be what I expected, I would have lowered my hopes about what college held for me. I fell into the trap of skipping class because no one was forcing me to go, and my grades suffered. However, knowing now how important class is to the well being of my grades, I would definatly have to explain to my past self that with my new found freedom comes the responsibility for my own actions. Over the past year I have discovered that by holding myself accountable for my actions, I have been able to reach my goals, whether academically or socially, rather than falling just short of them. I would have to say that teaching my past self accountability would be the most crucial piece of advice I would have received before leaving for school.