Would You Like a Car to Go With That Bumper Sticker?: Eight questions to ask when deciding between colleges


In front of you are glossy brochures that represent X University and Y College, your top two choices, both of which have already told you they love you back. Congratulations! Here are some questions to ask yourself as you try to choose between them.

  1. Are You Hardcore? – Curriculum
    If you’re curious about what the wisdom of the ages could do for you, X University with its core curriculum could be the better choice. Having to glance at Aristotle and Toqueville might lead you to pursue something you wouldn’t have considered otherwise, and you might enjoy the camaraderie that comes from having to suffer through the same classes as all of your friends. On the other hand, if you get starry-eyed at the prospect of never having to take another math class, Y College, with its fewer academic requirements, could be the school for you. 

  2. Do You Love the Spin Cycle? – Politics
    Let’s say XU is, overall, politically apathetic, while YC is more like a Sunday morning talk show, with extremists from both sides trying to score points. Is it more likely that that your XU friends’ refusal to turn off lights and reuse plastic bags will drive you bonkers, or that YC’s protest-overload will leave you exhausted? Also, would you mind if you’re the only person wearing a “Draft Al Gore!” button either place? Does one seem better at engaging with minority viewpoints than the other? 

  3. Would You Like a Car to Go with that Bumper Sticker? – Prestige
    Though XU has name recognition, and not everyone will have heard of YC, in certain circles YC is more prestigious. How important is it to you that your diploma be a status symbol? How much do your friends’ and family’s reactions to your school’s name matter to you? And—if XU is offering you a better financial deal—would you be willing to pay more for it?  

  4. Do You Party? Hearty? – Social Life
    XU might feel more like High School: The College Years than YC, especially if other kids you know are matriculating there. Do you want that kind of experience, with Beer Pong tournaments starting up sometime Thursday and ending late Sunday? If the Greek scene is dominant, would you consider pledging? Since YC is smaller, can you be creative about coming up with things to do to entertain yourself there? Will you get tired of constantly running into your exes? Will you need to escape to a city regularly for the change of scene?

  5. Whether Weather Matters – Winter
    Remember those daffodils waving gently at you from alongside the paths when you visited YC last June? For most of the year they’ll be buried under snowdrifts. Will that sap your will to live—or, at least, to make it to class? If you can rock the fleece-lined boots, or if you can’t get enough of those Double Black Diamonds, an arctic four years at YC might not be too much of a challenge. But if long underwear cramps your style, consider more temperate climes.

  6. Malkovich Malkovich, Malkovich? – Diversity
    The question of diversity often boils down to, Are most of the other students on campus like you? Are you cool with wearing khakis and a button down every day if that’s what’s expected for men at XU? Would it unnerve you to be the only woman in Sociology 101 wearing make-up at YC? How important is it for you to come in contact with new and unusual points of view, or do you want the comfort that comes from being a Jew at Brandeis or a Mormon at Brigham Young?

  7. Do You Want to Look Any Further than Your Own Backyard? – Novelty
    If your mom was a Tri-Delt at XU, do you want to follow in her footsteps? Or do you feel compelled to blaze your own trail at YC? What experiences have your friends or older siblings had at either XU or YC, or at similar schools, that you can mull over as you make this choice? Learning from other people’s experiences is an art.

  8. Do You Have Varsity Dreams? – Sports
    This won’t apply to everyone, but if you played sports in high school and want to continue in college, keep in mind that there will lots more competition for varsity slots at XU schools. Would you rather ride the bench there or lead the team to victory at YC? What if at YC no one comes out to cheer? Would you still rather play or go the intramural route at XU and on Sundays be part of a huge crowd of fans in the stadium?

But most importantly, consider the intangibles: the right school for you should just feel right. So go with your gut.

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