Dear Auntie, I need some serious help here, on a decision that will possibly decide the rest of my life-- college. Right now, I've been accepted by two colleges, both good. However, both also have major flaws. College 1 has a great program and smaller. However, I can't envision myself living there because the campus is cramped and the environment there isn't exactly good. College 2 is beautiful, looks like Hogwarts, but it's super far away from home and huge. They've made huge mistakes with my application and through those, I realized I'm just a number. I've been thinking about this for a super long time now and I can't reach a decision! In my head, I imagine it as choosing between two guys (due to my extreme lack of imagination, I'm putting myself in a rom-com situation). One has amazing hair and looks good, but has some issues it needs to work out. The other one is the, for a lack of better words, homely one who makes you feel good most of the time. I've tried praying, meditating, listing out pros and cons, but they're equal! Thank you for your help and time!
So what you're saying is, if I screw this one up, it's only the rest of your life that hangs in the balance? Okay, then! NO PRESSURE!
But hey, I like your college-selection-as-dating metaphor, so let's start there.
Here's the deal: in this scenario, the good-looking chap with amazing hair did, indeed, mishandle your affections and make some mistakes. But mistakes can be remedied or made up for, whereas a basic incompatibility cannot. Which is to say, Hottie College may have done some boneheaded things on your first date, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can't have a good relationship. Whereas Homely College, despite its good points, can never change the basic lack of attraction that makes you feel stifled, cramped, and ill-at-ease.
And really, there is something to this—namely, that basic incompatibility is a much bigger problem than a bad first impression. And just as bad first impressions can give way to good relationships, a college's treatment of you during the application process doesn't necessarily reflect the experience of being a student there. Not only is Admissions only one department of many, it's one with which you'll have zero contact after you enroll. Even if you're just a number to them, that doesn't mean you'll be just a number to your professors, or your friends, or the communities you become a part of within the college whole. Which means, to return to our metaphor once more, that rejecting a whole school outright based on a not-so-great application process is like rejecting a guy you really like because his obnoxious little brother tagged along on your first dinner date and threw up all over the table.
...And now we should probably end this metaphor before anyone gets the sudden urge to make out with an academic administration building.
I know that right about now, it probably seems like I'm throwing my hat in for Hottie College. But actually, what I'm pushing for isn't one school or another; it's a more informed, objective decision-making process that's based on what'll make you happy. So: which of these schools can you picture yourself at? Which is more in line with your values, your personality, your tastes? Which has not just one, but a variety of academic programs that interest you? Which is more conducive to learning, to socializing, to engaging with the community there? Which one can you envision not just as a place to learn, but a place to live?
And, most importantly, which of these things is most important to you? Because even when you've got an equal number of marks on each side of your pro/con list, not all concerns are created equal. Acknowledge yours and then give them the extra weight they deserve. Maybe you value a great academic program over a pretty campus; maybe you really want to be close to your hometown; maybe you can't be happy in a place you consider aesthetically hideous. There are no wrong answers, here—only what matters to you a lot, and what doesn't matter so much at all.
Although personally, you had me at "Hogwarts."
Which school would YOU pick? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.
Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: Free, Clear, and College-Bound!