Career and Jobs

5 Myths About Choosing A College – Perspectives From A Professor And Parent

When my wife turns to me and says, “You should write about that,” I generally listen because she rarely does that. While relaxing on our deck recently, we reflected on the things our daughter is experiencing as she starts to consider colleges as well as what we hear friends or family say. As a professor at a top 15 public university, a parent, and a former college student too, I hear things consistently that need to be debunked. To be clear, this is an “unofficial debunk” because at the end of the day, college choices are personal and relevant to each family’s circumstances, needs, and opportunities. Ultimately, there are no wrong answers here just guidance.

This debunking analysis comes from my perspective as someone who went to Florida State University over 3 decades ago and watching my rising high school senior daughter navigate these decisions now. The first myth is that you can only have success if you go to an Ivy League or name-brand institution with large endowments. Undoubtedly schools like Harvard or Duke University are amazing institutions with deep resources, great faculty, and a robust network of alumni. However, I see many adults fall into the trap of giving off the perception to their students that anything less than those routes is “meh.” Students can buy into this and start to believe they are “settling” by going to a top-ranked state university or an amazing liberal arts college (that their auntie may not be familiar with). There are amazing universities across the spectrum. Pick one that fits individual needs not “name” or “reputation” metrics alone. My daughter has been working on a rubric, a type of scoring guide with criteria, to help narrow down her choices based on the things important to her.

This leads me to the second myth –The school matters over major. While some may disagree with me here, this one comes from personal experience. I was that anomalous kid who knew since 6th grade that I wanted to major in meteorology and ultimately be an atmospheric scientist for NASA one day. I did both before moving to the University of Georgia. As my wife and I tell our two kids, most people do not have a major mapped out that early and will discover their interests while in college. In some ways, this makes schools with innovative and broad major options attractive for many students. However, if you have a pretty good idea about your intended major, then, a different conversation is on the table. As a high school senior, I was blessed with the ability and opportunity to go pretty much anywhere based on my record. Florida State University’s (FSU) meteorology department was considered one of the best in the nation. From the standpoint of that discipline, a degree in meteorology from FSU carried far more weight than a degree from other places with that were high-end, academic brand names. As I look back on my career, I’ve done ok with three state university degrees.

The third myth is meant for those considering graduate or professional programs. Right now, my daughter is planning to attend law school. As such, we have advised her that the ultimate choice of law school will likely shape her future career more than her undergraduate choice. However, choosing the right undergraduate school to prepare them for graduate or professional programs is also vital. Some schools even have feeder programs or joint degree pathways so do your homework. The lesson, however, is that some students can unintentionally “overvalue” the undergraduate choice because it is the one right in front of them. My wife worked as an urban planner and then management consultant focused on housing-community development issues with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-funded projects. While her undergraduate degree in political science (University of North Florida) was a good baseline, her master’s degree in urban and regional planning from Florida State University ultimately landed all of her future jobs.


The fourth myth is that you are locked in to a university once there. Guess what? You are not. Some of the best students whom I have interacted with over the years transferred from another school. Students often get to a university and discover that it is not a good fit academically, geographically, weather-wise, or socially. You do not have to stay in a bad or uncomfortable situation. If you follow college athletics, then you probably have heard of the “transfer portal.” Students have transfer options too. There are all types of guides to assist with the transfer process.

The fifth myth is college is all work and no play. While college is certainly a step up academically, I strongly disagree with the notion that you don’t consider non-academic factors in your decisions. College was the best time of my life. I pledged Alpha Phil Alpha, met my wife, and formed lifelong relationships in college so the following questions are fair – Does the institution have the sorority or fraternity you may be interesting in pledging? Does the size of the town meet your personal comfort zone? Do they have a football team? These are not first-order considerations, but do not let someone shame you for thinking about them either.

Good luck to the class of 2021 and my daughter’s class of 2022 as they start the process too.

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