College is one of those rare opportunities in life to start over. You can be whoever you want to be. So, you need to give who that person is some thought – the canvas is blank. Before you know it you will be hearing from those ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen colleges you applied to! The school you choose is where you will become and/or be that person. This often-unconsidered fact makes it abundantly clear how not to choose a college: by what your friends think and where your friends are going. Will you keep those friends in college? Probably, a few, not many. The ones that support who you want to become.
College peers, that group from which you will find and form new friends, are a huge and again frequently unconsidered factor in college choice. How common is it for an entering freshman to know exactly where they want to go and how to get there…and then have the self-determination to unwaveringly follow that path? Do and can you? How much more realistic for a college freshman to have an idea of what they want and an idea that it’s a wise to go to office hours, get to know professors outside of class, do internships and/or research, go to class, and study… It is the rare eighteen year old that will buck the system, the social agenda and expectations, to follow their own path that is different from the majority of their peers on campus. If it is unheard of for a student to go to office hours, will you? If it is considered unrealistic for a freshman to find an internship, will you? Consider schools where the norm meets your expectations and allow yourself to ‘ride the wave’, so to speak, with peers.
This applies to extracurricular as well as curricular activities. Here I would suggest that it is less what the activity is per se but rather the level and purposefulness of activity engaged in that matters. There are exceptions where you will want to be able to continue a specific expertise on campus or in the community. But by in large, consider the balance between curricular and extracurricular and the value of the extracurricular that you are looking for. Do they match up with who you see yourself being? “Value” doesn’t imply academic. One North Carolina college told of a student club “to sleep as long as possible”; another college down the road told of a student club “to find the most free food on campus”. They are indicative of what the campuses value; one is appealing, the other not. Don’t be afraid of “serious academic environments” -- don’t sell yourself short, but do consider the campus environment of extracurricular engagement.
College is a time to grow and change. Between now and the first day of class, give thought to what kind of person you want to grow and change into. Give thought to what kind of peers and campus environment will help you get there. Pick that college on May 1st.