‘Tis the season for college visits

A fleeting memory now–the beautiful brick building lettered with BOTANY over the main doorway.  It was on my right-hand side as I looked out the car window.  Why didn’t I ask my parents to stop?

For families with rising high school seniors, summertime can mean college visits.  Parents pack their offspring in the car and tour campuses to see which offers the most appealing campus, social life, and academic setting.  Some of those visits may include campus tours, admissions interviews, or overnight stays.  Others may simply consist of a drive through campus.

How does a student decide on a school?  My parents were extremely generous to drive me around New England to look at colleges and even made one trip to the mid-Atlantic, but I rejected my choices one-by-one.  One school had a soccer field that was nearly flooded after a rainfall–reject.  A second school had a pitiful computer lab–reject.  Another school had Greek flyers everywhere–reject.

I cringed at another campus that contained a painted brick building with peeling paint.  My contractor/painter grandfather had always warned about painting brick and I wondered why a school thought it could offer me a decent education when it didn’t even know that brick wasn’t supposed to be painted–reject!

Sure, my parents and I asked about computer science and engineering majors, but only once did I ever speak to a campus representative from an academic department.  Were my priorities right?  Probably not.

Like me, it seems like today’s students (and their parents) focus more heavily on college choice than field of study.  Has anyone exposed “junior” to as many college majors as college campuses?  Unlikely.

My previous startup, Doors to Explore, had surveyed approximately 60 college students and asked whether they had selected a major first or a school first.  Roughly half claimed “major,” while the rest were roughly split between “school” and “both at the same time.”  This data seems suspect as more than 65% of the same population claimed that they received “no help” or “very little help” from their high school guidance counselor regarding either a school or major choice.

Some students likely plan to attend the state university branch nearest their home, while others expect to attend their state’s flagship university.  Students with aspirations to attend large campuses frequently express relief at the similarly large array of program offerings.  This suggests a student strategy of selecting a school big enough to increase the likelihood there’s a program offered of interest.

Yet, even the largest state school lacks a bachelor’s degree program in every area.  Additionally, many state schools are now so popular that students face increased competition to in-demand programs, so just because a program exists doesn’t even mean it’s accessible to every student.  And, what’s the likelihood a student proactively seeks help from professionals at a career center versus following a degree path without fully understanding it?  So much for knowledge and choice.

I still “carry a torch” for botany and think that I would have made a great botanist.  I’m happy with my career as a computer engineer, but will never know what I would have chosen to study in college if I had had the chance to understand all my options.  Why didn’t I ask my parents to stop at the botany building I saw all those years ago?  Psychologists “say” our regrets are the things that we didn’t do rather than the things we did.  I suspect knowledge is the opposite: we wish we had more information than we did.

As families pile into their mini-vans this summer for college visits, let’s hope they encourage their student to spend an equal amount of time researching college majors and careers.

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