Most high school students apply to more than one college or university, and getting into more than one can leave you with some tough decisions to make.
While your choice will likely come down to a wide variety of factors, including finances, it’s easy to get caught up in how you want just the next four years to go—-where you want to live, what you want to study, who you want to be close to. Cultivating a long-term perspective, taking into consideration what education, career, or location you might want after college, is key.
You want to make an informed decision that won’t leave you with regret five years down the line when you realize your major is unemployable in the career field you want, you can’t find jobs for which you qualify in the same country as your fiancé, or you simply can’t solve for electric flux one more day of your life and all you have is an electrical engineering degree.
To hopefully* avoid the aforementioned existential crises, please keep your future goals in mind.
Are you considering applying to graduate school after earning your undergraduate degree? Law school? Med school? Depending on the program, this will require years of mental and fiscal dedication beyond your four years of undergraduate studies. This creates a high-risk situation for academic burn-out and overwhelming student debt.
There are ways to minimize the tolls of education beyond undergrad on your health and your wallet. Many of you will be faced with a choice between one or more lesser-known college(s), the “responsible” option that offers scholarship money or a less-expensive public education, and one or more higher ranking college(s), the “challenging” option that may be a private institution or that you may not be able to subsidize with scholarships. Often-times the higher ranked colleges will be faster-paced and more stressful options because you may no longer fall near the top or even median percentage of students there.
If you find yourself up to the challenge of the more prestigious choice (economically and mentally), and you know that you have no desire to pursue an education beyond undergrad, then by all means, meet the challenge. However, if you are considering a graduate program, especially a professional program such as medical school, please seriously consider attending the more feasible option.
If you are so financially and psychologically drained four years from now that the prospect of further education reduces you to tears, having an impressive name on your undergraduate diploma is not going to help you last long enough to get a PhD.
It is important to have an idea of what you might want out of a future career in choosing an undergraduate program, because the whole purpose of gaining a college degree is to improve your employability in your chosen field.
Fortunately, many universities allow you to wait until your second year to declare a major and even to switch between schools within a given college. However, if you cannot seriously picture yourself working as an engineer and have never shadowed or spoken with an engineer to get a sense of the daily requirements of the job, I would not recommend picking an independent engineering school over a university that offers other programs in addition to engineering, at least not without doing some further research.
This is also another important area to consider cost. If your top-choice is going to send you into thousands of dollars of debt, and you plan on paying that off with a teaching degree, it will take years, if not decades to do so. Do not invest more in your education than you anticipate gaining from it in the career it makes you employable for.
Finally, also take into consideration where you might want to eventually settle down. If you have your heart set on the country’s top technology school but you know that following school you’ll be moving back onto your family’s country ranch, you might want to reconsider one of your priorities. Try not to base your college choice on specialties that have limited regions of employment, especially if you know you could never bear to live in those areas.
College is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but make sure to keep in mind your post-college experiences as well. Money and [your] energy are not infinite, and you should plan accordingly to keep yourself out of a serious bind.
*Following the guidelines laid-out herein does not guarantee economic success, political triumph or earthly bliss. Neither the author nor this publication is responsible in any way, shape, or form for individual outcomes. In short: we said it, but you agreed to do it.