Grappling with the Final College Decision

“What are you grappling with?” I asked each of the Harvard Business School mentees as they joined my table during the speed mentoring evening.

“The CEO of the my company just offered me a new job to help start up urgent care centers across the country. Right now I have been building the NY market,” said a young woman in her late twenties.

“Are you a builder or a starter?” I replied.

“I don’t know! It’s a lot harder to build than to start, but I love what I’m doing right now. I love being accountable for the numbers and I love building a team. I’ve been in this role for less than a year.”

“So why do you think your CEO asked you to take on this new role?”

“Well, I used to do consulting and I think the board wants someone with that experience in that role, but honestly, I didn’t really like consulting. I much prefer what I’m doing now.”

And just like that, she had her answer, walking away with a clear idea of what she wanted to do and why.

As seniors grapple with making their final decision of where to attend college, it’s helpful to go through a similar exercise to identify which school will be the best match.

Identify your needs. It’s easy to get caught up in the rankings (or the “sexy” new position), but instead stay focused on your needs, your interests, and which school is the best fit for you.

Focus on the reality of the school. As you revisit schools and speak with current and former students, figure out where you will be able to thrive academically and socially. Put aside your romanticized view of a school, and look at it with an open mind. Many students change their minds either because they did not get into their first choice, or because the realize that a school they initially though of as a safety school, was actually the best fit for them on all counts.

Review the curriculum. Dig deep in the curriculum and map out the classes you would take in your intended major to make sure you actually like them. Or if you are undecided, look at the requirements and see if they are things that interest you. If you are planning on majoring in architecture or engineering and you want a hands-on curriculum, see how many of the classes are actually hands on versus theoretical.

Run the Numbers. Put together a spread sheet comparing all of your offers and calculate the full cost of attendance over four years. Determine how much debt you would have by the end. In Kristin White’s new book, It’s The Student Not The College, she supports our contention that it’s not where you go, but what you do when you are there. Graduate with as little debt as possible (we recommend no more than 2/3 of your anticipated first year income!) and you’ll be happy when you don’t have huge student loans hanging over your head!

Good luck making your final college decisions!

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