On choosing a college | Seth’s Blog

For some fortunate 17 year olds, the end of the year is the day for a momentous decision, one that’s largely out of the comfort zone of a 17 year old.

A four-year college education in the US can cost nearly half a million dollars once we count the expenses and foregone opportunities that go with it. It can shift our persona, our learning and most of all, the systems we live in for the rest of our lives…

One way to make a complex decision of this magnitude is to relentlessly make it simpler. We can begin by vividly describing the flavors, factors and preferences that go into the choice (I have heard every single one of these from students I’ve coached or spent time with) and then pruning them away:

  • I like the weather there
  • They have recycling bins all over campus
  • The tour guide who showed us around was cute/engaging/friendly
  • I think I’d have fun at the football games
  • My peers in high school will be impressed
  • It is much cheaper than the alternatives
  • It’s expensive and so it must be better
  • I might make the soccer team
  • I grew up watching the school’s teams on television
  • I hear they have a really good math program
  • It’s close to my house and doing laundry will be easier
  • It’s far from my house and I won’t have to deal with being at home a lot
  • My parents went there
  • My parents didn’t go there
  • It feels right
  • I’m tired of this and need to get it over with already
  • It was a stretch to get in and I feel accomplished
  • It was a stretch to get in and I feel intimidated
  • My guidance counselor said it was a ‘good’ school
  • The people I know have heard of this school
  • I know exactly what I want to do for a living and this it the best place to start on that journey

Many of these are matters of short-term taste, and are the sorts of things we bring up when everything else either feels the same or we’re afraid to examine the real issues too closely. In my case, I picked the college I went to partly based on the radio station I heard (or didn’t hear) when I visited the campus.

Here’s a different way to look at it, one that we can broaden into an insight about adult decisions about where to work, where to live, who to hang out with. There are two parts:

  1. Are the people this place attracts the sort of people I want to spend time with and become more like?
  2. Is the system that is in place here one that pushes and cajoles and processes people to become more like the kind of person I’d like to be?

That’s it.

It doesn’t matter if the campus is pretty or if the football team is good. It doesn’t matter if it was sunny on the day you visited. Unless… unless those factors are the factors that are attracting and keeping the folks you had in mind in #1.

A party school isn’t a party school because there’s a good liquor store on campus. It’s a party school because the combination of #1 and #2 create a self-perpetuating system.

Once you answer these two questions, pick the least expensive option that helps you get to where you’re going.

Perhaps this feels like a big decision because it’s about you. But it’s not actually about the you you are right now. It’s about the you you hope to become.

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