Wednesday, March 7, 2012

5 Tips for Picking the Right College

(I am so frustrated.  I spent about an hour writing an intensive post over this topic... and then my internet crashed and deleted the entire thing.  So here is the second draft.)

Over the last week (and I'm so glad about this), I have been receiving several comments and emails from high school students asking questions and sharing concerns about going to college in the next year or few.  Possibly one of the most asked questions I've received so far is, "How do I know for sure I'm choosing the college God wants me to attend?"

I relate to this question very personally.  One of my biggest emotional roller coasters when I was a senior in high school was deciding which university to attend.  I finally came down to deciding between two different schools: a small private Christian university that was relatively close to home and a huge public university located nearly ten hours away from my family.  They were vastly different environments and I wasn't sure which one was right for me.

I stressed and stressed and stressed about which of those two schools was the "one."  I was raised in home school/private Christian school my entire life.  The idea of a big secular university was terrifying.  However, after I visited both schools, I felt like the Lord was drawing me away from the private school.  He had a place for me at the big university: Texas A&M.  After nearly two semesters here, I am very confident that I am at the right university for me.  I'm where God wants me to be.  

If you're struggling to decide on the right school for you, here are a few tips to help you in your decision. 

1.) Is it the right size?

What size of school do you attend right now?  How big is your class?  Most importantly, how much of a change are you willing to undergo?  I was raised in a small and personal school environment... and now I attend a huge school where it is literally impossible to know everyone.  Can you handle a big change?  My sister attends a private Christian university of around 5,000 students; I attend a university with over 50,000 students.  If we swapped places, we would both have to undergo a certain degree of culture shock.  Obviously, our schools are very, very different.

What kind of environment works for you?  I encourage you to visit both big and small universities.  See which environment you prefer (and be sure to keep your options open).  You may be surprised about which size of school works best for you.

2.) Is it the right distance away from home?

I read an article once that said the further away from home a university is, the more likely it is that the student will end up transferring.  Even if you aren't the type to get homesick, being away from your family in a strange and unfamiliar place will be hard.  Choosing a university across the country for your freshman year may be a bad decision.

Talk to your parents about what kind of distance is reasonable and what isn't.  A college four or five hours away might be perfect for you... or you may be fine with purchasing plane tickets every time you need to go home.  Be sure to ask yourself how often you expect to see your family during the year.  If you plan to see your family more often than major holidays, a long-distance college is not for you.  If you have a particularly overbearing and involved family, a school a few hours away (but not too close) may be the perfect distance for you. 

3.) Does it have the right atmosphere?

I strongly encourage you to visit the schools you are considering before you make your decision.  If possible, stay on campus for a couple of days until you get a true feel of what living on the campus is like.  Remember: this is a place where you'll be every single day for possibly four or more years!  It's important that you like the atmosphere.

Every university will have a different "feel" to it.  One of the biggest reasons why I chose Texas A&M was because it was one of the friendliest places I've ever been.  No matter who you are or where you're from, you'll be greeted with a sincere "howdy" from passing students.  Also, the school spirit at my university is huge, which I love.  I wanted to be excited about my school. 

When you visit different colleges, try to picture yourself living and walking around on each campus.  If you can't imagine yourself fitting in there, then it's probably not the place for you.  Some colleges will have a more serious atmosphere than others; some will be jovial.  Be sure to speak with different students who pass you when you visit the school.  They should seem sincerely happy to be attending the school and eager to help a prospective student.

4.) Does it have your major?

It's surprising how many high school students tell me, "I plan to attend this university.  They don't have my major, but I've really wanted to go there for years and years, so I'm just going to settle for a similar major and try to take some classes pointed towards the actual major I want."

No.  Just no.

Even if you've had a certain university in mind for the past ten years, if they don't have your major, then don't go there!  Seriously, you don't want to be hindered in your future career or cheapened out of the right education just because you want to carry the name of your dream school.  There are so many excellent universities in the United States... pick one that will help you with your major, even if it's not the school you originally planned to attend.  

5.) Do you have a peace about it?

Spend time in prayer about this decision.  Don't just say you'll spend time in prayer; don't just intend to spend time in prayer.  Commit to sitting down on a daily basis and asking the Lord to help you pick the school He wants you to attend.  I'm not going to downplay what an important decision this is.  Where you spend the next four years of your life is a big deal.  Don't rely on yourself to make the decision of where you'll go to college.  Spend time daily in prayer and the Word.

Also, be sure to listen.  It's easy to ask and ask and ask God for wisdom and direction and never actually listen to what He's trying to tell you.  His plans may be different than your plans... and that may be hard to accept.  Open your heart and lay out your plans before the Lord.  Allow God to change them.  His plan for you is so much greater than any you will have for yourself.

Let me tell you my story.  I was going to attend a tiny Christian university.  I applied there, I was accepted there, and I even reserved my dorm room on that campus.  That was where I was going to go.  I knew I would be comfortable and happy and content in a cozy Christian environment like that, but somehow, I still did not have a peace about where I was going to go.  When I finally sat down in tears and confusion and told God that He could pick, that I would set aside my reservations and genuinely let Him choose where He wanted me to go to college, He asked me to attend a university about ten times bigger than anywhere I had even considered.

I never, never, never planned to go to school at a place like Texas A&M.  But when I entrusted my future into the Lord's hands, He did what was best for me.  I'm so glad I let Him choose my school.  And I have a peace about this. 

Spend time in prayer, release your dreams and plans into the Lord's hands, and you will end up at the right school.  Don't worry.


And finally, if you are still stressing out, here is something my mom told me when I decided to attend my university (which broke two of the five rules above).  "If you don't like it, you can transfer.  You aren't trapped there for four years.  Try it out for four months and if it isn't working out, leave." 

I know it's hard, but try not to worry about choosing the right school.  Place your fears in the Lord's hands.  It's a big decision, yes, but trust that God is holding you right now... and let Him be in control.  Wherever you go, no matter which school you choose, you can still make an impact for Christ.  You will still make friends.  You can still do great things. 

He's got this.  Don't worry.

Matthew 6:34
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Stay tuned for next Wednesday's five college tips.  Also, if you are a high school or middle school student and you have any questions whatsoever about college life: dorm life, classes, choosing the right school, maintaining your relationship with God, dating, etc., leave them in the comments below or send me an email.  In a few weeks, I will be having a College Q&A Day.  I will only be answering your questions, so if you don't ask, they may not be answered.

Have a great day, friends.  And remember: don't worry. :)


  1. I know you posted this a while ago but thanks for posting this! It helps in all of the decision making. :) Here's a couple questions for you. What are some of the biggest things that surprised you in college? What kinds of Christian ministries (i.e. Cru, InterVarsity, etc.) are you involved in? How do you know what major to choose? (even if you personally haven't had to think about trying to pick a major much, have you had friends who are in this situation?)

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