I’m honored each year to speak to dozens of students – and often their families – as they think about where to enroll as an undergraduate student. I thought I’d increase my reach this year and post some of my thoughts about this important topic in this space.
Despite some of the uncertainty that remains in our economy and the recent wave of contrarian opinions from columnists and talking heads, college remains a must for almost all of those who aspire toward a professional life and a life full of great choices and opportunities. At Loyola, we often talk of the development of the whole person as part of our university’s mission and so we see college as not just a stepping stone to financial and career success but, in fact, it is the open door to the rest of one’s life, the equipping of one with the tools to ask the right questions, navigate change, and affirm one’s callings.
This is heady stuff, and so the college choice is an important one. I’m going to give you 8 BIG THINGS to think about in your college search. I don’t see any one of these as necessarily more important than any other, but each individual has their own opinion and after some thought, you might do well to rank these on your own to discern what’s most important to you. Here are the first 4. Check back next week for the sequel and the final 4:
1.SIZE. At Loyola we think we are the right size. Next fall we’ll have about 5700 students; 3200 undergraduates or so. We have the resources and facilities of a larger institution, but class sizes that average in the 20′s. But some students want larger schools; some want smaller schools. Again, there is no objectively correct choice, just one that makes the most sense for you. Be sure to look at the size of the physical campus, class sizes, and the way the facilities are laid out to see if a school is to your liking.
2.LOCATION. City or rural? Right in a bustling downtown, or on the edge of town? Look to see what’s around the college. Do you like ample park space? Are you more of a cement and skyscrapers kind of person? Do you need to be near the mountains, an ocean? Location can really matter when you want a break from campus and head out to a museum or a restaurant; you’ll want to make sure there are cultural choices to your liking. Also, think about the culture of the city or town you are going to? Does it resonate, at least a little, with what you like and would like to experience? If so, are you prepared for everything else it could bring you? I went away to a cold climate for college after growing up in New Orleans. My hair froze one day when I did not dry it well enough after a morning shower. Wow, didn’t see that coming.
3.MISSION. What is the school all about? At Loyola, we have some definite ideas about education -that we should treat others with kindness and offer them our assistance; that we should develop our whole selves; that God is everywhere and in all people; that we should strive for excellence; that we should all possess an international perspective as a means to connecting to all of God’s people. Sound good? Great! If not, that’s okay – keep looking until you find the school that promulgates values and ideals that work for you.
4.VALUE/PRICE. Wow. I know this is THE big one for many families and I know that families make their decisions based on their priorities and what they think is possible. That said, here’s my advice: always look past the initial price. Think about what financial aid and scholarships might be available to offset costs and think long-term. Think 30 years long term. I would not trade my Catholic-Jesuit education for anything (high school, undergrad. and graduate school). Did it cost some money? Yes. Was it worth the investment? Yes!! My education has prepared me for so many opportunities that I’ve lost count. As important, it’s prepared me for things I could never have anticipated. It encouraged me to utilize all my skills and talents, and I’m still developing them every day. Attend a college that will help you become a life-long learner and a full time participant in your own life. Here’s your timeline: First, apply to schools. Second, see where you are accepted. Third: complete a FAFSA. Fourth: assess your financial aid. Be sure to ask questions of your aid counselors; and explore financing options. Fifth: Make a decision based on what’s feasible at the time, but be sure to have a long-term horizon.
Ok, start with these and you can begin to narrow down your search some. See you next week.