I love farmers markets. The food, the atmosphere, the variety—it’s all very refreshing, and I try to go to them as often as possible. This past weekend, walking around the Bryn Mawr Farmers Market, I developed a ridiculous but worthwhile analogy. Thus began the comparison of farmers markets to the college search, selection, and application process.
For starters, each stand is completely different from the others. You have your fruits, vegetables, cheeses, honey, coffee, salsa, chocolate, wine, and bakery items being sold. In fact, the only common denominator is that they are all terribly expensive but totally worth the chunk of your paycheck. That’s the first similarity with college search and selection. What’s being sold at these farmers markets is a necessity—fresh and healthy food. And because they know you want it and need it, the prices can keep going up and you will keep on buying. College is a near-necessity in this modern age. And with costs continuing to rise exponentially, sometimes the only choice you have is to go deep into your pocket (or future pocket with loans). So before you go into the search and selection process, just as before you go into a farmers market, you have a budget. You know what is in your price range and what isn’t, and you hope for some good deals, generous farmers, and maybe even some free samples.
Getting past that gloomy reality, like colleges, each farm stand is different: not only in what they’re selling, but also in the way they go about their business. And it’s important to pay attention to this fact. For instance, if there are multiple stands selling strawberries, you need to take into account not only the cost and quality of the fruit itself, but also the people selling them. The farmer or farm rep, along with the way he or she treats you as a customer, is going to have just as much of an impact on your day as the product you’re purchasing is. In other words, it isn’t just the degree your graduating with, but it’s the way that specific program is set up at a particular college and how well the professors and administration treat you/meet your needs. You can’t skip ahead to the final outcome, because it’s the experience as a whole that has the greatest impact on how you feel and fare afterward.
With all of this in mind, I think one can agree that it would be rather reckless to buy everything at the first stand. Even if the fruit looks pristinely ripened, the farm rep is hot, young, and incredibly friendly, and they throw in some honey sticks free of charge, you have absolutely no frame of reference. You’re completely incapable of making a good decision if you lack any comparisons. Keep calm, and don’t jump into it. That farmer has a bunch of products and will wait patiently for you to come back if you so decide. But give each stand a chance first. Make your way around the lot, talk to all of them, inspect the food, and mingle. Maybe you return to the first stand anyway—and that’s fine—but don’t take the risk of missing out on something great. I loved the first college I visited. I thought it was my dream school and that no subsequent visit could possibly get any better. Of course, after visiting about twenty other schools, this was not the case. And though I maintained my affinity for that one school all the way through the process, it just wasn’t where I ended up. So keep your options open.
When you finally make that choice, when you finally put the money down for that purchase, it feels great (if you do it right). The relief, the looking forward to finally enjoying your strawberries/education, and the hopefully amiable and global experience that made up the search and selection are invaluable. And you know it is only a matter of time before you return to your next farmers market (buying a house, car, looking for a job, etc.).
Basically, if you treat every major decision in your life like you’re at a farmers market, you should be in good shape. I can’t even tell if I’m being sarcastic or entirely serious here, but you can take it as you will.