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Choosing a College

Written by Mr. WellCultured, Friday, January 22nd, 2010 in Q&As

I have to choose between two different colleges. One small one I have a scholarship to, the other larger university I don’t. The small one is ranked fairly low, the larger one is pretty well ranked. What do you recommend?

Honestly? It depends.

First off, understand that to some degree, getting out of college with little debt is important. If you do not plan to go to graduate school of some kind, this is especially important. Once you graduate from school, for the most part, your alma mater won’t be a huge part in determining the job you get as much as other factors. Rankings are important in certain circumstances (especially in respect to getting into graduate schools), but for everyday sort of folk wanting to get in and get out normally, it’s a rather moot point.

If you do plan to go to graduate school, it’s a bit of a different story. I like to use the following allegory: consider your GPA from 0 to 4.0 (preferably closer to the 4.0). Now, consider that value multiplied by the value of the school, perhaps divided by the public knowledge that the school grade inflates (as some upper tier lower end schools tend to do). For example, let’s say you get a 4.0 in a really small middle-of-nowhere previously-was-a-community-college sort of joint- that’s just a multiplier of 1, meaning a 4.0. However, if you did that at a notoriously difficult and prestigious school, consider it a multiplier of 1.5 or even 2, meaning we’re talking much over that 4.0, at least in an imaginary sense. At least in my mind, there’s a marked advantage to not taking the easy route if you want to continue academic pursuits.

What I’m trying to say here is that there are reasons to go to the big university. Like it or not, despite what many self-assured (slightly overzealous) seniors at the small college will tell you, there are reputation differences that can play a factor later in your life if you have to stay in circles where reputation matters. However, if you’re a normal Joe looking to get in and get out with a normal job, then from an economic standpoint, it would be better to take the smaller school.

Always remember that no matter where you go, scholarships can be gained and lost, and loans can always be held. Sometimes- not always, but sometimes- it’s better to take on a sum of debt to get a real education than to get a free one that’s trash.

Oh yeah, a note on the side: wherever you go, cheap or not, don’t major in something stupid. Theatre, Studio Art, Dance, Gender Studies, Human Resource Studies, and similar disciplines have very restricted applications, despite what majors in those respective departments will tell you. Unless you’re going to be the next master level practitioner of those disciplines, don’t go for them. That’s not to say that there are many good majors (there aren’t), but at least don’t become ridiculous. I can’t even begin the count the number of guys I’ve known who graduated from various programs like the ones listed above Magna Cum Laude with scholarships who now live with their parents working at grocery stores.

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One Response to Choosing a College

  1. Wallaby says:

    Generally, I would say go with the school that is going to cost you the least with the most value in education. Generally, this is going to lead you to the State universities. School reputation and GPA may or may not matter depending on your major. If your chosen career is portfolio-based (graphic design, coding examples, websites, etc), GPA and school reputation will almost never come up. In majors where there is little else to judge, employers will fall back to things like GPA and school status. Generally, state universities have a much better-known reputation than “small private university xyz” in the boonies.

    Another good way of saving money in college is to go to a community college for the first year or two to get your general education credits out of the way. Most community college course credits transfer to the major state universities; your mileage may vary when it comes to private university transfers.

    Lastly, if you’re going to college, do it for the right reasons. Get a career that you want, or if you’re only going so you can get a well-paying job, do some market research for job competition. Kirk is right to say there are many useless majors, but don’t be afraid to get something in the fine arts if you think it will help you develop your skills. I’ve seen my share of students going into engineering just because they heard it paid well, only to either drop out or change their major halfway through college. Do what YOU want, not what someone on the internet tells you to do.

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