Here at The Prospect we talk a lot about what does matter when looking for a college, what you might not think of as important, but will really affect your college experience. But what about the opposite? What should you not be paying attention to?
When looking for colleges, everyone has a different method. One thing a lot of people do is make pro and con lists, including several of the factors below. Personally, I made spreadsheets, and looking back at it now I’m quite surprised by certain columns and criteria have that I could not care less about now. So, what are you probably giving way too much weight in your college search?
Public vs. Private
In some cases there are financial reasons as to why you should figure this in, but other than that, it doesn’t have much affect. I remember during my college search I was under this impression that going to a public school was somehow lesser, even though my state school is constantly ranked among the top universities. Public or private does not dictate the quality of the education. And if you are worried about the “big, public school feel,” don’t be until you actually visit the school. I visited two schools one week, a public and a private, and the public school felt like what I thought a private school would feel like and I swore I was at a public school at the private one.
For some people, have a big sports presence seems to be the be all, end all of the college search. For others, popular sports teams find themselves in the con column. However, when it gets down to it, the quality of your college’s sports team doesn’t have that much of an affect on your education. Sure sports teams are fun, and if you are choosing between two identical schools where one has sports and one doesn’t you may want to factor it in. However, unless you are in that situation or someone who hopes to continue playing a sport in college, it definitely shouldn’t be one of your top priorities.
Several articles on this website have been written about this very topic, and our consensus seems to be that the name of your college doesn’t matter that much. Sure, it’s nice to say your college’s name and not have to explain where it is. However, that luxury is not worth the price of missing out on the perfect match for you.
I am so furious at myself when I look back on my college spreadsheet and there is a glaring column entitled “Acceptance Rate.” This all goes back to the same reasoning as name brand: go for fit. Maybe a college statistically has a low acceptance rate. That means everyone there is super smart, right? Maybe not. Maybe they get a lot of applicants and don’t take that big of a class. Sure, that makes it more competitive, but not necessarily better. And take my college for an example on the opposite end of the spectrum. I actually picked the statistically least selective school I was accepted to. However, because we only offer a fraction of the majors others do—and extremely rare and specific ones at that—people who apply have to know what they want to do (I’ve only met one or two people who came in undecided), so the applicant pool is very small.
Grad School Rankings
I’ll admit I fell into the rankings trap. That little tab on the top of universities’ U.S. News pages that said “Rankings” fascinated me. However, those specific rankings, for the most part, are not the ones you will be experiencing—they’re grad school rankings. And while it’s nice to be at the top university for your field, you may not necessarily get the benefits at an undergraduate level. Most of the money for that program is probably going to the graduate level. That doesn’t mean that the undergraduate program is bad, it just means the quality of a graduate program does not necessarily guarantee the quality of an undergraduate program.
This is the column I laugh at the most now. I was so sure that I did not want to go to a school with a large Greek life presence. It might have been part believing in the stereotypes and expecting a horrible environment on campus or that if there was a large presence the only social life would be through Greek life. However, even though I did go to a school with a small Greek life, I actually ended up joining a sorority. So now I wonder why it played such a big affect on my college search.
Friends, Parents, and Celebs
Again, this all goes back to fit. Just because your best friend/mom/favorite celebrity in your field went to a specific college does not mean you should. If a college isn’t right for you, it isn’t right, no matter how much your parents want to share their alma mater with you.