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How Not to Choose a College (Explained in One Image)

March 30, 2018

Trying to decide where to go to college? Afraid of choosing the wrong college? Samantha Schreiber’s meme clears things up.


If you’re involved with any social media groups focused on college admissions and/or choosing a college, chances are you saw Samantha Schreiber’s much-shared meme last week (see above).


“I was driving to work, listening to a podcast, and they had a meme expert on the show,” says Schreiber, the associate director of college counseling and academic planning at Milken Community Schools in Los Angeles. Prior to her work at Milken, she worked in admissions for both USC and Pomona College. “[The expert] referenced that picture specifically, and it came to me: That’s applicable to what our students are going through. You have the logical path in front of you and at the last minute you just swerve to the wrong path. You have them on this great path and then this tiny things happens and all your work is undone.”


If you’re going to college soon—or are a parent of a college-bound studentwe’re guessing this meme resonated with you, too. The Edmit team chatted with Schreiber about her work as a college counselor and how students and parents can conduct confident college searchesand not get derailed in the process.


Edmit: The Edmit team often hears stories just like your memea neighbor told me I make too much money to get financial aid, so I shouldn’t bother filling out the FAFSA; so-and-so told me X or Y college isn’t a good school, so now I’m debating whether my kid should still apply there. Your meme has been really relatable!


Schreiber: Right? Who is your neighbor? What does your neighbor know? It’s hard because a lot of times those people have a lot of influence over our kids. Kids care what their grandfather’s neighbor thinks, and so it’s not that they think those people know more than us [parents or counselors] or are smarter than us, they just care about these people, and these people are important to them.


College admissions is one of the first times [for kids] that parents and other people don’t know everything. It’s the first time you’re having to ignore the advice of people that you really used to trust and who are successful, good, well-intentioned people. They don’t know yet whose advice to trust, because they’re a kid.


Edmit: Let's say a student comes to you and asks 'How do I choose a college?' What should students and parents be thinking about how to choose which college to go to?


Schreiber: The biggest thing is not to compare yourself to other people. Everybody has their own process and is their own individual, and this is the first time that kids are making a choice independent of friends and family. What’s right for your best friend might not be right for you. Or you might want something different from your friend, and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean you don’t still have things in common, it doesn’t mean you’re not still friends, but it’s a really independent choice. I think kids don’t necessarily trust themselves yet because this is the first independent choice. And especially if parents are saying “we don’t care, we’ll send you wherever and we support you,” it’s almost paralyzing to them.


They should be thinking about where are they going to feel confident. It’s about their attitude. So many schools are great, so it’s more about do they go in ready to take advantage? Do they go in with excitement? Or do they go in immediately looking for something to go wrong to show them they made the wrong choice? It’s more about just trusting themselves and making the best decision they can with the information that they have, and knowing that the quality of their experience is very much up to them.


Edmit: So we know students shouldn’t be listening to their manicurist’s sister’s cousin. Who should students go to for advice?


Schreiber: It’s tough because every adult is well-intentioned. It’s not like there are people trying to steer them wrong, but it’s a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. If you ask enough people, you’re going to get so much conflicting advice, and that’s going to confuse you even more.


Ask your counselor, if you have a college counselor. Ask a teacher who you really respect and know well. Ask other college-aged kids, recent graduates.


Edmit: How can students and parents filter out the noise and make clear-headed decisionsso they can avoid choosing the wrong college?


Schreiber: Once you have a [college decision] framework setup, don’t go too far outside of it, because you’re really then just clouding the information you already have.


The hardest part is to ignore someone chirping in your ear, whether you like them or not. We all are susceptible to the opinions of others. Again, you just have to trust yourself. Maybe have a family discussion, sit down after an event or a family dinner and say “oh, can you believe what so-and-so said, do we think there’s any merit to it?” If not, say “no, they don’t know our kid, they don’t know our process, they haven’t been on this journey with us. They’re sharing their best-informed comment, but they’re not informed: They don’t know our kid, where our list came from, the schools we visited, the kind of support our kid needs.” Discuss it and move on.


There’s really so much more that goes into it than “oh, my neighbor didn’t like that school” or “Michigan is the best.” Well, sure, Michigan is a great school, but there’s 3,000 other schools that could be a good fit.


Edmit: In your experience, which questions should students and parents ask to determine if a college is a good fit?


Schreiber: I worked with the tour guides at Pomona and I liked when [prospective] students asked “What are students talking about right now?” “How responsive is the administration to change and concerns of the students?” “Can you get a meeting with your advisor easily?” “Can you start a club easily?” Find out if there are already clubs that match your interests. Are there places where you can see yourself studying?


You know, it’s not a science, a lot of it is feeling. A lot of it is you figuring out if you can find students like you, but who have different backgrounds. You don’t want to go to college and duplicate your high school experience. You don’t want to find the same friends, you don’t want to find the same teachers. You want it to be different. You should be slightly intimidated and a little scared, but also excited knowing that you’re going to grow and you’re going to change.


Edmit: How would you define a good return on investment, in terms of choosing a college?


Schreiber: It is about how the school supports you, and how students take advantage of things. You could go to Harvard and never go to office hours and never go to a recruiter fair, and you’ll graduate without a job offer. And you could also go to Harvard and have a miserable experience if that’s not the right place for you. It’s about making sure you’re the kind of student who will go to a career fair where there’s thousands of students, and you’ll confidently put on a suit and your resume, and you’ll have no problem introducing yourself.


Some kids don’t want that, and that’s a different thing. Is that really intimidating, and you need a smaller school where there’s a little bit more hand-holding and things are on a smaller scale? Just because a school has internship opportunities, good job placement and good graduation rates, doesn’t mean you’re a part of that statistic. You have to work to make yourself part of that statistic. A lot of choosing the right school is choosing the right learning environment for you.


Is it “worth it” to send your kid to an out-of-state public or private school when you know that they don’t necessarily form relationships with teachers and they’re going to struggle and they might not have the resources? I don’t know, that’s a family decision. Maybe it makes more sense to send them to a smaller school that’s closer to home where you can be a little more supportive.


So I think the return on investment is really on the student to say “is this a place where I’m going to be comfortable, where I’m going to make an effort, and the school is going to be receptive to my efforts?” It requires knowing your student, and your student knowing themselves.