Making Big Decisions
A “How To” Guide Within a “How Not To” Story
It’s the beginning of April, and with it a time of big decisions. For high school seniors across the country, it’s a time of deliberation and decision; the National Candidate’s Reply Deadline for most colleges and universities looms ahead on May 1, and while many may have already made their college decisions, there are many more who are still considering and making their choice every day.
There are many ways to make your college decision; some of them are undeniably better than others. To illustrate, allow me to take you through a non-exhaustive list of how I made my own college decision:
Decision Making Tactic 1: Scientific
As a high school student, I was particularly interested in STEM fields, and thus believed myself to be extremely scientific (despite significant evidence against it, looking at you every personality quiz I ever faked). Early on in the process, around January or so, I decided that clearly I could make this decision scientifically. So I did what every scientist does in moments of crisis: I made an Excel spreadsheet.
I very scientifically selected some variables, figured out how to give each college I was considering a score and put them in the spreadsheet. It spit out what I had determined was the mathematically best college for me. It also, coincidentally, spit back out the name of the college where I had a bad interaction with a professor and felt bad about being on campus. I cursed the spreadsheet’s name and moved on.
Decision Making Tactic 2: Vibes
If science couldn’t help me, I decided to veer in the completely opposite direction and make a decision based on how I felt on campus: did I feel comfortable? Did I like the people? Did I want to be there? This was, as one might call, the Vibe Check (™).
The Vibe Check (™) did help me limit the list somewhat; there were a few campuses where I just didn’t feel welcome or comfortable and didn’t find my place with the people I met that I was able to cross off the list. But then I was left with roughly three colleges, all of which felt pretty equally good, and it was hard to choose between my notes which said things like “warm,” “sunny feeling” and “bad vibey statue.” I decided I needed a new tactic. (For the record, I still have no idea what “bad vibey statue” meant.)
Decision Making Tactic 3: The Pro/Con List
With the list narrowed down to three schools, I turned back to what I know in my soul to be true: I am a person who loves a list. It was time to pro/con each school.
For the record, the pro/con lists started out fine. It’s just that near the end I started adding some really personal pro/cons (aka: did the dining hall have Coke or Pepsi products?), and it went downhill from there.
Decision Making Tactic 4: The Pacer
The pacer is not so much a decision making tactic as it is an active state of being that I entered around April 28. This began three days of pacing back and forth in various places and talking about my options aloud to whoever sat still long enough. Mostly, this was my long-suffering mother who didn’t care which I chose, as long as I made a decision already. It also included: my father, my younger brother, multiple friends, and at times, my dog.
To be fair, the dog was just as helpful to this state of affairs as anyone else.
Decision Making Tactic 5: The Moment of Truth (11:59 p.m., May 1)
Now, all levels of this story have been a “what not to do” guide. However, I am willing to go on the record with this statement: take as long as you need to make your college decision. I did. I pushed “submit” on the decision button at 11:59 p.m. on May 1.
In the end, my decision was one that I’d actually made long ago (probably before the whole process began), but kept chickening out because I was scared of making the wrong choice. Afterwards, when I had the chance to think unbound by a deadline, I realized that I had unconsciously been shifting all of my decision-making methods to make my college stay on the list, because in the end I knew it was the one I wanted.
This story of “what not to do” doesn’t have to apply to you (though if it does, that’s okay; indecisive friends unite!). There’s a part of you, however small, that knows already what the best choice is for you academically, socially and financially. It’s simply getting there for yourself.
If you’re still worried or stressed, here are my “college decision” affirmations:
- There are successful people at every college. Choosing one college over another is no guarantee of success or lack thereof.
- What college you go to doesn’t actually matter that much in the end; what matters is what you do with your college experience- what opportunities you take and where you grow.
- You are already successful; colleges would not have accepted you if they didn’t already know you would be a great fit for their campus.
- Other people’s opinions don’t matter. They aren’t going to college; you are. Sure, there are some people that have to get on board (parents, especially financially), but if you know that one college would not be a great fit for you academically, no amount of someone else wanting you to go there can make you successful there.
- You will find your place and your people. There is someone else out there, right now, making the same decision as you; they are your future roommate, classmate or best friend. You’ll find them, regardless of the decision you make.
Obviously, I hope that you choose to attend Agnes Scott. But in the end, I’m happy for you and the choices you make–whatever that may be.
Rachel West is the Director of Enrollment Marketing at Agnes Scott College. Her decision making tactics have gotten better with age, though they still involve rather a lot of pacing while talking to her mom, Donna, on the phone. We extend our deepest sympathies to Donna.