It’s an opening that, no matter what the situation, promises that something good is coming your way. In my case, it was the first word I saw on my letter from the University of Southern California. Teary-eyed, I dashed out of my room to share the good news with my loved ones: I had been accepted by all the universities I had applied to!
When the “Atta girl’s” died down, however, I began to feel overwhelmed. The University of Southern California offered an exciting student life in the City of Angels, but Indiana University had a nationally recognized research program in my field of interest. The University of Southern Carolina – Chapel Hill’s campus was absolutely stunning, but the University of Florida had offered me a unique assistantship bringing together students from global cultures.
How could I possibly pick just one school to attend?
Don’t get me wrong: I knew I was incredibly lucky to have five acceptances in my hand – but had no idea how to make a final enrollment selection. I was facing “a rich man’s problem”.
Are you a perplexed “rich man” or “rich woman” like I was? If so, I get you. Selecting a single treasure out of a tempting chest-full and closing the lid on all the others is actually pretty stressful. I’d even argue that making a firm decision takes both courage and self-confidence: courage to let go of other options and self-confidence to not second-guess your choice.
Coming to my final choice took a lot of reflection and many conversations with mentors. As somebody who grew through the decision-making process and has been working for many years as an educational consultant, I’d like to share some guidelines to help other “rich women” and “rich men” through this important stage.
Figure out what you want. Then, figure out what you need.
Granted that the two are not mutually exclusive, I’d still argue that most people are aware of only what they want or what they need. Some are not fully aware of either. Take me a decade ago, for instance.
When I was a teen applying to college, I knew I wanted to attend a reputable university with a broad range of majors in a desirable location. I knew that although I wouldn’t major in the arts, I wanted access to high quality vocal instructors and performance organizations.
Looking back, however, I needed a university that didn’t hand-hold and that allowed me to learn from my mistakes. I needed a school that balanced academics and life because as a high school student, I had focused on my studies to the point of ignoring my social development. I needed a college that encouraged me to gain broad volunteer, internship, and work experience, effectively preparing me for real life after graduation.
On the flip side, today, I meet many clients who know what they need but not what they want. Some need to select a top-ranked school to meet parental expectations. Others need to major in business, engineering, or medicine to meet social expectations. Many know that they need to attend a less expensive program because of their budget.
While all the above are real and valid concerns, I guide my clients in balancing their needs with their wants. I ask them, “What subjects excite you?” “If money were not your main concern, what would you do with your career?” “What kind of academic, physical, and social environment would you perform the best in?” More often than not, their answers are unique and inspirational – to themselves and to me!
Ultimately, the question is: What do you need to become a more well-rounded professional and human being? Or, which school would give you both what you want and what you need?
Experience the programs.
You can spend hours browsing the universities’ websites and brochures. Although both are strong starting points, nothing beats hands-on experience. Visit the school campuses if time and budget allow. And don’t be shy! Before you arrive, arrange to attend a class, chat with current students, and take a campus tour. If the program is too geographically remote, then at the very least, make contact with alumni in your area to learn about their experiences in school. Most universities have alumni organizations that can hook you up with helpful ex-students. If all else fails, arrange a phone or Skype call with a current student through your program of interest.
Bottom line: Get a hands-on feel for the universities. And at the end of the experience, ask yourself, “Can I see myself here?”
Go with your gut.
I know, I know – at least a few of you are thinking, “What kind of crazy advice is that?!” But don’t underestimate the power of your intuition. It’s an invaluable tool in making decisions.
While you should, of course, keep your thinking cap on, I would encourage you to engage your sixth sense in picking the right school for you. Where do you feel that you would be happiest? Which is the school that could best support you in all areas of your development?
Undoubtedly, the selection you make will impact your intellectual, career, and personal development pathways. Note, however, that the process of decision making may be as important as the choice itself. And, as higher education researchers will tell you, “It’s not where you go, but what you do once you get there that matters.”
P.S. I ended up enrolling in the Human Development & Family Studies (Bachelor’s) program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the College Student Personnel (Master’s) program at Bowling Green State University: both perfect fits for me.