I am an adviser to business students at my college, as well as freshmen who are trying to pick a major. This week, I sat with a freshman who is trying to decide if my college is the still right choice for her. I realized once again that there are probably many students who plunge headfirst into college without thinking ahead four years, but instead, think about the moment right in front of them.
If you want to be happy and make the most of your four (+) years of college, what should you be thinking about before you make your final decision?
1. Why do you want to go to college?
I would bet that there are actually some students out there who just assume that college is the right thing to do and don’t stop to consider if it is the right thing for them to do. My hairdresser actually attended the college where I teach, but left after one year because she realized that her heart was not in it, and she was just there because it was what everyone else was doing.
She learned to cut hair instead, and is much happier on this path. If you do want to go to college, think about why you want to go, and not just why your parents or your friends think you should do. It is a big commitment of time and energy (not to mention money), so make sure that it is what you want to do for yourself.
2. What do you want to study?
You may not know specifically what you want to study, but it is helpful to know generally what you want to study. For instance, if you think you might want to study engineering, make sure you attend a college that offers engineering. When Aneil applied to Harvard back in 1979, he told the interviewer he wanted to major in engineering, only be told Harvard didn’t have an engineering school (they finally created one in 2007). Guess who didn’t get into Harvard? If you are not entirely sure what you want to study, you might be better off at a liberal arts college, where you have more choice about your major.
3. What do you want to do when you are finished?
Again, you may not know specifically what you want to do, but you might have an idea whether or not you want to stay in the area or leave for a bigger city or another state. Make sure you attend a college where you can easily make the move to an internship, job, or even grad school. The school that has the right connections will help you be best prepared for what is next.
4. How do you want to spend your four years?
This is the issue my advisee is struggling with now. Does she want a small college experience or a big university experience? That is where it is really helpful to visit each before you make your decision. Sit in on a class at each school you are considering; talk to students; walk around. Where can you see yourself for four years? It is worth spending a bit of time up-front thinking about where you will spend your time later to make sure it is a good fit and you are happy.
5. Where do you want to go to college?
A recent study found that happiness is determined by many things, including geography. Where you go to school can impact how you enjoy your time, as well. Do you want to go to school near the beach or mountains, near a big city, where it is sunny most of the year, or where you can enjoy world-class skiing? These are all different and will leave you with a completely different experience and perspective on life. Choose the one that will make you happiest.
Before you make the investment in your college degree, ask yourself a few questions to assure that your investment is a good one.
Karen and Aneil Mishra are business school professors and authors of Trust is Everything (2008) and Becoming a Trustworthy Leader (2012).