I can’t believe that I just quoted Marilyn Manson. I guess never say never.
Decisions are hard but guess what? The more decisions you make, the better you get at it.
At some point in the near future many of you will be in a position to make a decision concerning your post-secondary future. The first decision involves the application and the second decision involves the acceptance.
If you are not one of those people who knew from a young age that you wanted to become a nurse or a teacher or a doctor or another “professional” label when you grew up then what are you to do? Even if you are a person who has a good idea about what subjects you want to study or what profession you want to pursue you still need to make decisions about which path to follow to get you to that ultimate goal.
Sure, there are elements like scholarships and fancy residence rooms and alumni success stories to consider. The problem with these elements is that they are most often short-lived. The impact might not carry past the first year. That scholarship might help you out in year one (or even in multiple years but maybe you hate the program you are stuck in) or that residence room will be really cozy (but what if you get assigned a challenging roommate?) and that story is really inspiring (for the moment).
Having a longer-term perspective can help you through this process. Here are three elements to consider when making the decision about which schools to apply to and (eventually) which offer of admission to accept:
1. The Environment
Having a good understanding of yourself and the environment that is most conducive to your success is key. Different strokes for different folks. The idea of “the environment” can cover a lot of pieces including:
The availability of academic and personal supports. For example, some institutions offer non-academic programming in the areas of effective note-taking, exam writing, essay preparation, presentation delivery, etc. Do you have these skills? What if you run into trouble? What services can you turn to for help?
Opportunities to get involved in organizations and activities that meet your interests or that take you out of your comfort zone. Getting involved means making connections with new people and ideas which can last a lifetime.
- Class sizes. Are you someone who thrives in a more intimate setting where the professor knows your name, strengths and weaknesses or would you rather hide out in the back row of a 400 seat auditorium for your thrice weekly lecture?
- Proximity to home. Personally, when I was 18 I couldn’t have imagined living any further away than the three-hour drive I did from my parent’s home. I wanted the ability to break away from the safety and security of my home but still be able to head back for a weekend of home cooked meals and face to face chats when I needed it. Others might be completely comfortable with the idea of taking up residence on the other side of the country. Again, know yourself and what you need to be successful.
2. The Program Options
Let’s just get this straight. A university education does not equal job training. Well, not directly in most instances anyway. One of the purposes of a university education is to help you develop your critical-thinking skills (like can you take/find information, analyze it and then come to some sort of conclusion or opinion about it?). You can do that in ANY subject area. So if you love history, then study history! If the subject area doesn’t interest you or get you excited, you’re not going to develop these skills because, let’s face it, you’re not going to do the work.
Another element to strongly consider is the flexibility of the program. For example, can you choose electives or is the program so rigidly defined that there is no way you are going to have the chance to study other topics? The ability to move or transfer between programs is also worth understanding. What if the program you choose doesn’t work for you? Can you transfer to another program relatively easily or is it a big production that will equate to a lost year? Get the facts.
3. Gut Feel
Trust it. Take advantage of the opportunities that exist to visit campuses and attend events where campus representatives come to you. What are your first impressions? What do you like/don’t like? Be prepared with questions (see above) so that you get the answers you need.
I want to know what helped you make your decisions so please share!
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/freddy-click-boy/3221177018/”>Freddy The Boy</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>