Not every high school senior is pursuing a college degree, and maybe some of the lucky few who are have already made their college decision and won’t need this advice. But for those who are currently agonizing over one of the biggest decisions of your life, this is for you.
1. Make sure to pick a school that will give you options
I’ve been in your shoes — the sleepless nights, the inner debates, and all that turmoil. I felt like I could NOT make a decision this massive at such a ripe young age of 17, going on 18. How was I supposed to know what I was going to do with the rest of my life right now? High school is designed to give you the basic academic requirements needed to move onto whatever path you choose. Whether that’s the workplace, Armed Forces, or college, you’ve received a broad overview of subjects that will (hopefully) move you towards success. After such a general education for 12 years, it is extremely difficult to wrap your mind around the concept that there is so much else out there to discover and experiment with beyond the small walls of your high school. So, if you have no clue, or only a small inclination as to what you’d like to do for the rest of your life at 17 or 18 years old (which is completely normal), make sure to pick a school that will give you options. An interesting and diverse array of courses to choose from will be the foundation upon which you can start your college career and begin working towards a more specific degree. Just because the kid on one of your campus tours knows without a doubt he wants to “dual major in Aerospace Engineering and Oceanography with a minor in Watercolors” does not mean you have to know what you’re doing yet.
But then again, people can know exactly what they want to do. I really envy those people. Those people are rare. Pick their brains. Ask them how they knew what they wanted to do, and when they knew it, and why they knew it. Your own choices might not mirror theirs, but at least you’ll know what knowing when something feels right might look like.
2. Don’t pick a major based on what you think you knew about in high school
Just because you hated your history or science teacher in high school does not necessarily mean you hate the subject. Many colleges will require you to take the same general education requirements that you took in high school as a prerequisite to graduation. Give them a chance! You may find what you are passionate about within some subject you’ve already taken and have otherwise written off. After these general course requirements, which are usually only one semester, the full splendor of courses offered at a college opens up to you. In college, you will no longer be taking just “physics” or “science,” rather “The Science of Superheroes” (University of California at Irvine) or “The Science of Harry Potter” (Frostburg State University). Not merely “math,” but “Street Fighting Mathematics” (MIT). There are so many new experiences in college, academics being just one of them. Take interesting classes, classes you never expected to enroll in, and experiment with your options. Look at colleges with the same open mind, because college is truly nothing like high school.
3. Pick a school that has an environment that fits you; don’t change yourself to fit a new environment
Beyond just the academics of a college decision, you should try to pick a school where you feel at home, because wherever you go will ideally be your home for the next 4 years. Two-thirds of the year will be spent on or around campus, and it is crucial that you be happy and overall satisfied with your choice. No one can make this choice but you. You know deep down inside what will make you happy. Your parents don’t, your friends don’t, your teachers don’t. Everyone will be trying to help you, making suggestions, friends perhaps trying to sway you to go with them to school so it can be “just like old times.” These people care about you and want to help you make your decision. Listen to them and acknowledge their advice, but know that, in the end, you must make the choice for you. Be a trailblazer and go without anyone from your high school if you want to, or go with your group of friends to a college! If you want to go to a huge party school, thats your choice, and if you would rather go to a smaller, calmer school, you have every right! Wherever you go, go for you.
4. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind about your original choice
So you’ve made your decision now and you’re at this brand new place with brand new people in a dorm the size of a tissue box with all new rigorous courses. Everything is “new” and slightly (actually, VERY) terrifying. Pay attention here, because this is important: You’re allowed to change your mind. I’m going to say it again: You’re allowed to change your mind. A college decision is likely the first major choice you will make in your life, and with all decisions, people can find their first choice was not the best for them. Your first year of college will be a huge time of growth. You will mature, and you will discover things about yourself that you never would have realized before moving 100 miles from home. After the first year, you may realize this place isn’t the best fit anymore and that is completely okay. You can never truly experience a campus until you live there, the tours and orientations are only a small taste of college campus life. So come deadline day, make your decision and be super excited about it (as you should be), but know that you are not married to this decision for the next four years. Always remember that you have options.