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It’s great to have a plan. But sometimes, planning becomes so excessive that it starts interfering with opportunities to grow and discover.

When narrowing down where to apply to college, it’s important to look at specific factors that are important to you and consider the opportunities you might have there. However, planning every detail of what you could accomplish there is a waste of time and is not an effective way to select colleges.

When I was searching for colleges to apply to, I started by looking at vague characteristics, such as size, location, and distance. I then started exploring majors that I was interested in. But soon, I found myself searching through the clubs each school offered, specific study abroad programs, and more. For any given school, I wrote down specific classes I would take, study abroad programs I would participate in, majors and minors I would have, and clubs I would join.

I can guarantee you that nothing on those lists has stayed the same. It’s not that I’m particularly fickle. Rather, when I stepped onto campus, I stopped relying on my detailed plans and started exploring to learn more about myself and about the opportunities on campus.

The truth is that you can’t figure yourself out completely by taking personality tests, and you can’t choose a college major or a study abroad program from a simple internet search. When you start to explore, you grow and you change, and that’s okay.

It’s actually great. I’ve found so many new opportunities, and I’ve discovered more about what my true interests are and how I can use them in a variety of ways.

It’s helpful to have a plan that guides you. But a plan that includes every detail has the opposite effect: it gets in your way. It makes you miss opportunities that you would’ve stumbled upon if you weren’t so focused on sticking to your plan.

When searching for colleges, consider some details: location, distance, size, majors offered, atmosphere, or anything else that’s really important to you.

But student organizations, specific classes offered, specific professors, and even majors can change.

And perhaps more importantly, you can change your mind.

Instead of searching through specific classes and reading the requirements of every possible major at every college you’re considering, consider the unique characteristics of the schools you’re debating about. Which of those unique features are most important to you, and for what reasons?

For example, perhaps you value study abroad opportunities. Instead of choosing a school because of a specific creative writing program in England, you could look at which schools offer a wide variety of affordable programs. See the difference?

Maybe you’re passionate about feminism. Instead of finding schools with specific feminist organizations you think you would like, you can look at the overall environment on campus; are there a lot of feminist groups? Is activism prevalent? Does the campus have resources such as a women’s center?

There are ways to be a good planner without planning every detail. I’m not suggesting that you ignore what you value at this moment in time, even if your values and interests change. And I am certainly not suggesting that you don’t consider which factors and features are important to you.

Rather, I suggest that you keep your options open because, maybe, as you explore, you’ll discover that you’d rather study the education system in Finland than write poetry in England.

Uncertainty can be scary, but certainty can be just as scary when it inhibits you from exploring new interests and discovering new opportunities.

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the author

Paige Sheffield is a student at Central Michigan University. In addition to writing for The Prospect, she writes for her campus newspaper, You On Top Magazine, and more. She is also a TP Editorial Internship Co-coordinator. She loves poetry, coffee, statement jewelry, zumba, politics, and the Great Lakes. She is passionate about arts education and currently volunteers and interns with organizations that provide art-related programming to underserved populations. You can follow her on twitter @paige_sheff.

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