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5 Common Myths About Choosing a College

Updated on November 7, 2014

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21 million students attended college in the United States in 2014

MYTH #1: I have to go to college to get a job.

You have to go to college to get some jobs. If you want to be a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, or any number of other service professions, college is a must. But the fact is, only 38 percent of college aged people in the United States attend any form of college. So for the super majority, don't sweat it. If you're more interested in making a living using your hands and working with materials or machines, entering into technical training after high school -- even during the latter two years of high school, is a much better investment. Trade unions offer pre-apprenticeship programs for qualifying high school students and graduates begin working immediately. There are also several very good technical schools and other specialty and training programs (carpentry, boat making, etc.) The point is, remember that colleges are trying to attract your tuition payments and so they will not inform you of the many other options available. Do your homework. This is your future.

MYTH #2: If I don't choose the right college, I won't get a good job.

This is, of course, nonsense. Wipe the idea from your mind. College offers two opportunities to be prepared for a job.

  1. You are taught skills and competencies that are fundamental to a successful professional life (this includes all of that reading and writing and presenting of material).
  2. You have the time to explore internships and other low-pay/no pay work experience opportunities in your area.

Colleges that meet your basic criteria (see MYTH #3) will provide both of these opportunities. But it will always be up to you to take advantage of these choices. Be active in your own professional development while in college and just about any college will launch you into a job.

MYTH #3: Some colleges are better than other colleges.

A few very elite colleges that most of you have no chance of attending have the prestige and budget to host the most famous and influential intellectuals and scientists. These colleges are not better, per se. Often "towering intellect" and "college professor" are not one in the same personality trait and busy scholars more often than not have their graduate students do their scut work -- like teaching college students.

These colleges provide prestige and social status because of their reputation and selectivity. But they do not provide any better an education than many other state and private colleges. In order to find the school that is right for you, you should create a matrix of criteria for colleges and rank your options based on your needs. Here are some suggested evaluation criteria:

  • Cost (offset by possible scholarships)
  • Program (Do they offer the subject you hope to study?)
  • Are they accredited and with whom?
  • Do their faculty have 'terminal'* degrees? (very important)
  • What is their graduation rate?
  • Are they located where I live or where I want to live?
  • Who are their students?
  • Have I visited?

These are just examples. You need to figure out your own parameters and create a thorough matrix. This will allow you to rank colleges according to your needs. You will likely find that schools overlooked by the college ranking industry provide exactly what you need.

* A 'terminal' degree is the highest degree offered for a field. In Art, for example, it's a Master of Fine Arts of MFA, for Humanities, Sciences, and Social Sciences, it the Doctorate or Ph.D., for Medicine MD, etc.

Ivy League Schools Like Columbia College in New York peddle social prestige

MYTH #4: Once I begin attending a college, I am stuck there.

If you applied to several schools that met your basic criteria and was accepted to several of them, you will be confronted with the anxiety of making the right choice. If you have chosen schools carefully, you should have little worry: any of the choices should be equally suitable.

But you should also know that thousands of college students each year begin their freshman year in a school where they realize they just don't want to be and they transfer elsewhere. We all make mistakes and when we do, we should act to correct them.

Colleges will not advertise this option and your advisor will likely downplay the advantages of other schools, but if the fit is not good, move on. All schools gladly accept transfers, your job is to make the very best of your time in the mistake school so that your grades do not suffer.

In the past generation, college sports have grown into a multi-billion dollar industry.

MYTH #5: College and University's main focus is education

One of the by-products of all the promoting, recruiting, and public relations that dominates higher education is that some students do get educated. Many students do. But that is not the main focus of higher education.

Big schools are focused on alumni, sports activities, and private and government grants. Smaller college often focus on sports, alumni, and board activities. All schools spend a huge amount of money on outreach, communication and recruiting.

You can get a good education at any accredited college or university, but education is not the main activity of the institution.

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