Me: "Tell me what you're thinking about potential colleges. Have you narrowed your list to 5 or less?"
Unnamed HS Senior: "Well, I have two schools in mind and I think I'll go to whichever school Tom decides on. They're pretty much all the same so I'll just go where he wants to."
WHAT?! This doesn't really happen does it?
I'm sorry to report that it happens more than any parent really wants to know. Does it matter? I think, yes, it matters. It matters to the extent that choosing the RIGHT college shapes the way a young man or woman views the world and his or her place in it.
Too heavy? Maybe - let me take another angle.
Think of it this way, the attitudes a person has towards work, recreation, family and learning begin to really form during the last few years of a students high school career. Sure, that same student has been watching adults in his or her life for a good decade or so before that, but only during the high school years does that same student begin to see him/herself in that position. For that reason, the more career related exposure a student can have, the better.
Fast forward now to the college years. The college environment provides hundreds of distractions for students, some good some not so good. Students persevere through this and learn their preferences. The best college professors mold interested students and guide them toward their natural interests, abilities, aptitudes and desires. It's not all about the classes; it’s about what happens outside of class (that's related to coursework) that shapes students.
Here comes the part about choosing the right college....
Putting forward the effort to learn about strengths and weaknesses predisposes students to the best opportunities at various colleges. Doing this BEFORE choosing one school means making a smart choice about the opportunities available. It's not all about rankings and prestige. To the contrary, having a degree you hate from Harvard does you less good than immersing yourself in a degree that you love from Case Western.
What can be done? Look deeper at the schools being considered. Once narrowed to 5 schools (or less), look at the activities for students outside the classroom. Talk to professors. Talk to current students. What do they do outside of class that's related to their major? What opportunities does one school offer that others do not. Use this information to make the BEST choice.