One of the most important choices you will make in your life is where you will attend college. If you're a high school student contemplating this decision, you might be already in the midst of sorting through all the pros and cons and the often bewildering reasons for picking one school over another. You might even be tempted to give up and simply choose the college with the scariest mascot! (The Tigers). There are so many things to consider when it comes to colleges that it can easily become overwhelming. In this article I'll outline a few questions that you might be struggling with, and hopefully help clear away some of the confusion you may be facing.
- Why do you want to go to college? This may seem overly simple, but you'd be surprised at the number of students who cannot answer this fundamental question. If the first response that comes to your mind is "because my parents want me to", or "because my friends are going", then you should spend some serious time considering why you are pursuing post-secondary education in the first place. What are your long term goals and how can you achieve them? One of the most common mistakes students make is to get "in a hurry" to go somewhere without really knowing where they are headed. If you aren't sure, it's ok to hit the pause button and take some time to figure things out. There are plenty of opportunities for young students who aren't quite sure what they want to do or where God has called them.
- You've decided you do indeed want four years of college/university - now what? Other important questions are: What do you want to do when you get there? What are you going to study? Are you going to study? Your ultimate destination depends heavily on your answer to these questions. Do you want to be an engineer, journalist, biochemist? All schools have specialties - particular programs that their students repeatedly excel in. If you have a specific program in mind already, such as biology, do some research and find out what schools excel in your particular area of interest.
- How much money do you have to spend? This is a simple question, but important nonetheless. College is expensive, but don't freak out if you see that tuition at the school of your dreams is way over your budget. There are all kinds of scholarship programs, grants, loans and other financial aid available. Nobody should decide not to go to college because of problems paying for it. If your heart isn't set on a private, out-of-state school, and you're looking to save money, you'll want to look for colleges in your state, or schools that might not be quite as prestigious as some others, but still offer the programs you're looking for. This leads to our next question...
- How far away from home are you willing, or do you want to go? Out of state tuition can be shockingly high, and sometimes even the travel costs associated with going to school several states away can be enough to persuade some students to look closer to home. On the other hand some students are eager to explore new places and want to go as far away from home as possible.
- Should you attend a Christian college or a secular school? This question is a very important one, and some people might be tempted to put it at the top of this list instead of the bottom. But I've saved the most thought-provoking issue for last. If you identify yourself as a Christian, why wouldn't you attend a Christian university? Well, as you know, there are pros and cons to every situation. It's true that there are benefits to attending a school where the environment is decidedly Christian. It might be easier to make friends, to find and connect with those who share your values. You likely will have more opportunities to become involved in Christian activities.
There are also plenty of Christians and Christian opportunities at secular universities. A Christian school will most likely provide a healthier spiritual environment than a secular school, but there are students at every school who will make bad choices. A large secular university will provide the educational opportunities you're looking for, but a smaller Christian school will be able to offer smaller class sizes and the chance for relationships to develop with professors and fellow students, and there are certainly academically rigorous Christian colleges and universities.
In order to truly answer this question, you may want to take time for some personal reflection and soul searching.
If you feel you are ready to face the challenges of college life, your first priority in the search for a school should be the quality and focus of your education. Don't make up your mind one way or another before you have looked seriously at both Christian and secular options. Remember that the entire point of going to college is to get a quality education. Don't consider any college that doesn't meet all your needs! If you are having trouble, talk to a mentor and get another perspective, there's no reason to cause yourself any more stress than you have to. When you finally do make a decision, you'll know it's for the right reasons.
By David Atkinson