Jan 11, 2013

How to Choose a College

Via LinkedIn, I just read an interesting New York Times article called "How to Choose a College." In summary it is a guy writing his hopes for his niece, a high school junior, mainly that she'll look beyond SAT scores and celebrity alumni when selecting her college. His belief is that globalism and going out of your comfort zone should be high on the list of qualities sought out in a college.

When I think about what I hope for Cade when it comes to higher ed, first and foremost of course I hope he is excited about going to college. Assuming he's excited and that the logistical things like finances work out, my next hope for him is that he goes somewhere that challenges him. Maybe that means challenging academically (I certainly hope he at least needs to attend and be awake in class, otherwise why am I spending my money). But I also want that to mean something else. Maybe it means moving from a suburb to a city or from Texas to a different region of the country. Or maybe minoring in something that is interesting but not easy for him. Or studying abroad. Or joining ROTC or TA-ing.

Going to BU challenged me and looking back that's one of the things I appreciate most about my college experience. Being far away from my parents I was forced to be more independent than I might have been otherwise. I think I developed better problem solving skills because of it. I also think I developed more confidence by solving those various problems, even the ones that were as simple as "how do I get from A to B in X minutes without a car?".

For me, being in a city and meeting people of varying backgrounds was also a good fit. Now I'll admit that BU didn't provide great economic or racial diversity. It was mostly middle class, upper  middle class, slightly rich or really rich and white or Asian. (Quite, in fact, like good old CLHS.) It was also very traditional in terms of student lifestyle: 18-23, unmarried, no kids, full-time student, 4-year graduation plan. But I was exposed to significantly more religious backgrounds (Orthodox Judaism for example), political belief systems (blue blooded liberals - neither they nor vegans are allowed in Houston), career aspirations (biomedical what?)  and regional customs/experiences (people who didn't have a drivers license because they never lived someplace without public transportation or in the near polar direction, people whose high school zoning included Native American reservations) than I ever had been.

Since geography was such a defining component of my college experience it might be hard for me to remember that it may not need to be for Cade's college years. (Ross is the very opposite of me in that way; only time will tell who Cade takes after more.) But I hope whether it is geography, academics, culture or something I haven't thought of yet, that he, and me as the parent, will consciously look beyond the flashy numbers and find a college experience where he'll be challenged in and out of the classroom.

I feel like I should note that when I was selecting a school for me, I didn't think about that fancy "challenged out of the classroom" stuff. I played the numbers game - SATs, admission rates, tuition dollars (and then as my parents would probably agree, threw the last one out the window). If I had thought beyond the numbers I probably would have discovered before matriculation, for example, that BU didn't have a football team, something I never asked about because I had never heard of a college without one, thank you Texas. The only things beyond the numbers game I thought was how far could I go and how unique could I be. If it was normal or expected I wanted nothing to do with it. Point being, 10 years removed from the college selection process it is easy to say "challenged in and out of the classroom" but I know when I was in the thick of it, I definitely did not have that much perspective (though I'm sure my parents did and I'm sure I should have listened to them more but I think we all mostly agree that it worked out well in the end).

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