Choosing a college is a highly individualized process. It is also a decision that deserves time, investigation, and thoughtful consideration.

Deciding which colleges to actually apply to is one of the most important parts of this process. Many students make mistakes when they compile their list of colleges because they make choices based on faulty assumptions or place too much importance on specific characteristics that limit their options.

Here are four of the most common mistakes I see students make:

1. Paying Too Much Attention to the Prestige of the School

Students may have heard, “If you do not go to a good college, you cannot get a job.” This is actually not true.

First, the prestige of a school is in no way connected to whether it is a “good” school. It is ill-advised to make such an important life decision based on the popularity of a college. What is much more important is to define what “good” means in relation to the student. Hence, a “good” college is one that is the right fit for the individual. Focusing too much on the perceived popularity of colleges makes it difficult to recognize other schools which may a better match for the student’s needs and interests.

Second, research has shown that it is not as important to which college a student goes as compared to what they actually accomplish while in college. The focus should be on getting good grades, creating relationships with other students and faculty members to develop networks, and being active in campus groups and organizations. Plus, if possible, a student would do well to take internships or gain work experience. These experiences and more are available to students at just about any college, and pave the way for success in life post-college.

2. Disregarding a School Because of Location or Environment

A lot of students have their minds set on a specific geographic location. They may say to me, “I want to go to college in the East because I like it there.” However, by dismissing perfectly good colleges in other locations, such as the Midwest, they are basing their decisions on a surface-level rationale. This leads to students shutting down the option of other colleges before even exploring them as possibilities.

A similar problem arises when a student flat out rejects a certain school environment. For instance, some students might prefer to go to college in the city versus a rural school because they believe the latter would be too boring. This stance amounts to forming preconceived judgments without doing the research. In reality, the rural college may have a very active campus social scene with a lot of activities that students may not have access to in the city.

3. Ruling Out a College Based on Its Size

Along with location and environment, some students will automatically rule out a school based on its size. For example, they may only want to go to a large research institution in order to get into medical school. Yet, a smaller college may be an even better fit for their undergraduate career. Students can apply and be accepted to medical school regardless of the type of college they attended as undergraduates if their grades are strong.

4. Limiting Their Choices to Only One Major

Some believe if a student does not yet know which major they want to declare why even go to college? In reality, choosing a major, like a career, takes time. In the higher education system of the United States, colleges are designed for students to explore their interests and different careers.

This system allows students great flexibility and the freedom to explore their interests. This means that college students do not have to narrow down their majors right away. If they do not find satisfaction and fulfillment in what they are studying, or it is simply no longer a good fit for them, they can change their major. When students focus on only one major right away, they are limiting their choices. I have seen many students who switched majors and their careers go very well.

Moreover, experience has also taught me that the quality of undergraduate programs is generally the same in different schools. For example, an undergraduate psychology program could be similar at Harvard as at another institution. Some magazines and articles rate different programs, but in reality, these are just opinions. Instead of being preoccupied with going to the college with the “best” program, focus on what is best for you.

The Bottom Line…

Choosing a college might be a decision that takes students in an entirely different direction than they were expecting. For that reason, it is important that students and families take a step back and thoroughly think things through. The above-mentioned mistakes are some of the issues that need to be considered when trying to find a good fit for the individual student.

With some guidance from an Independent Educational Consultant, both students and parents can contemplate the whole scope of how to make this crucial decision. It would be my pleasure to guide you through this process so you can have greater confidence that you are making the right choice.

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