Jim is Going to College: The Most Obnoxious Problem

The prophetic column title is coming true!

To begin – I got rejected from a big heap o’ colleges. Some of those were deserved, and some were dumb chance. But I also got into a few different places, and the same things can be said about those, too.

They say that you’ll know from the moment you step onto a campus if it’s the right fit for you. They’re wrong. Deciding which college to attend is like trying to figure out which ice cream flavor is your favorite, except now you have to eat it every day for the next four years. There are a million different factors to consider, and the weighting of those categories depends heavily on what kind of person you are.

Determining the academic quality of an institution has become horribly convoluted thanks to the dark plague that is the US News and World Report’s college rankings list. I hear prospective students saying, “I’m gonna attend College A because it’s well-ranked” a lot more often than I hear, “I’m gonna attend College A because its curriculum and faculty are really aligned with my own educational values.” This is a dead-horse topic that I don’t want to beat any more – we all know the subjectivity of rankings lists and we’re all still going to look at them anyway. But numbered prestige shouldn’t outweigh more concrete factors in a decision process.

But I’ve done my research and visited the campuses, and I still can’t figure out where to go. I’m fishing with bare hands – every time I think I’ve got a coherent opinion, it slips away.

I’ve talked to a lot of people. Current students, admitted students, professors, teachers, parents, dog, myself, and I’ve concluded that about 90% of my findings are useless. A lot of people have biases, and a lot of people don’t know anything at all – a reality which they’ll try and compensate for by spurting improbable generalizations: “my friend Bob goes there and he’s smelly, therefore everyone at that school is equally smelly.”

Some well-meaning people will tell you to “follow your heart,” which isn’t particularly helpful when your heart feels like it’s blindly stumbling around in circles and bumping into things.

Be honest with yourself about outside input. Be wary of smart kids telling you a school is easy and basement-dwellers telling you a school has a poor social life; pay attention to the positives. College is what you make of it – if you’re not lame, then college probably won’t be lame (and there’s plenty of time in the next few years to expunge lameness).

So if you see me in the next few days blindly bumping into things, know that it’s because I’m trying to follow my stupid heart, and that I’ll probably be fine in the end, as long as I’m not super lame.