Some people feel little empathy for kids in this position, kids who have a variety of good choices. And yes, there is an element of #firstworldproblems in this dilemma. But it’s also the first major decision many teenagers get to make, so it makes sense to take it seriously.
I’ve noticed that the students who struggle with this the most are the ones who believe that there is some right answer they have to get to in order to live their best possible life™. The reality is, there is no one perfect college, no one perfect major, even no one perfect career for each person. Realistically, we can find satisfaction in a lot of different environments, disciplines, and professions.
In guiding students through the process of choosing a college to actually attend, I ask them to consider these things:
- Think about who you want to be vs. who you currently are. Often when we’re making a big decision, we look to where we feel comfortable. But in the case of going to college, sometimes we need to give ourselves the opportunity to be uncomfortable. Not miserable, but challenged in a way that pushes us to learn new things, acquire new skills, and occupy new spaces. By moving away from the familiar and comfortable, we can find an interest we love and want to explore, an internship that feels a little over our heads, or a mentor who can help us reach the next level in our chosen fields. So in deciding where you want to go to college, look for how each college can help you grow over the next four years.
- Reframe your prospective career in terms of skills rather than topics. This was a great reminder I got when I interviewed Robyn Russell. She explained, “I wish I had been given a structure for how to think about what I wanted to do that was not so focused on a topic. It would have been helpful if someone had asked me, ‘What type of work do you want to do? Do you love to sit in a library and do research? Or are you a super extrovert and love being around people? Or are you a big-picture thinker and you're really good at systems?’" These are the same questions you can ask about your prospective colleges, and think about which school fits best with your style.
- Consider your strengths and weaknesses. This is a tough one, and something I challenge my students to think about throughout the college application process. But being honest about what you are good at – and what you struggle with – can help you identify schools that will support you where you need help.