How (Not) to Choose a University | Top Universities

How (Not) to Choose a University

By Felix von Wendorff

Updated June 12, 2018 Updated June 12, 2018

So either you are planning for next year’s university application season or you are already anxiously waiting for the results of your applications – either way, you are standing in front of some momentous decisions. Society is asking a lot of kids at 18 to make the decision of what they want to do for the rest of their lives. To help make this process a little easier, lots of blogs offer advice on how to choose a university. But most of their advice is pretty lame, like “walking around campus and feeling the atmosphere.” I promise you that that is one of the worst possible ways of choosing a university. Call me naïve, but at the end of the day, the purpose of going to university is to learn. So instead of telling you how to choose a university, I’m going to give advice on how not to choose a university!

1. Never base your decision solely on university stereotypes (unless it is a really small university).

During your research, you’ll probably come across university stereotypes for each school you’re considering. As a rule, however, you will find every type of social environment and every type of person you could think of (and then some) at every university. Don’t say no to a good university because you are under the impression only nerds go there and the parties will be lame. If you got in, other people similar to you will have gotten in too.

2. Avoid choosing a university by how the campus looks or the climate.

I have heard of many people who turned down amazing universities because the campus was “ugly” or they wanted to be by the beach. This falls under the category of don’t judge a book by its cover. I know it may sound dull but the only two criteria I would recommend for choosing one university over another are 1) quality of education and 2) potential networking with other students. Don’t put yourself into years of debt just to live in beachfront dorms.

3. Be wary of choosing a university just because they offered you a scholarship.

If you get offered a scholarship and that is only the thing that makes one university better than another, make sure that this scholarship does not end after one year leaving you with three years of high tuition fees to pay. They love to do this at liberal arts colleges in the US. Sure you get a full ride… for the first few semesters. After that its $40,000 a year… for three to four years. Also if the scholarship comes with conditions (like GPA or athletics) make sure you can actually meet the requirements.

4. Don’t assume that higher tuition fees mean a better education.

I would recommend you reread that sentence several times until it really sets in. Just because you pay $60,000 a year does not necessarily mean you are getting a significantly higher quality of education. Introductory classes are probably going to be about the same at an Ivy League college as they are at a community college, so studying the first two years at a community college and then transferring is an excellent way of saving time and money.

5. Never ever choose a university because a boy/girlfriend goes there.

I know you love your significant other and think you are soul mates (and maybe you are) but don’t derail your life plans just to go to the same university as your boy/girlfriend. A friend of mine turned down an offer to study at a UC (her dream school) just so she could be with her boyfriend at a third-tier university. Six months in, she caught him cheating, they broke up and she is stuck at the community college. So love your high school sweetheart, but for god sakes, don’t plan your life around them when you are only 18.

So there you have it, a five point plan of how not to choose a university. Regardless of what choices you make, make sure you work hard and play hard. University is an incredible time in your life and choosing a university that’s right for you is not easy. Ask for help or advice if you need it, but at the end of the day remember it is YOUR decision, and no one else’s.

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This article was originally published in January 2014 . It was last updated in June 2018

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Written by

Felix von Wendorff studies econometrics as an international student at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He grew up in California and moved to Germany to take advantage of the great (and free) education system. In his increasingly shrinking free time, he enjoys running, budget traveling and reading. 

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