Blog 6 – Does it Matter Which University You Go To?
Special thanks to our beloved student Karen who contributed to many graphics for Giraffe blogs.
Choosing a university to pursue post-secondary education can be the most significant decision a teen makes. Most kids develop an awareness of university at a very young age. As elementary school students, they could have learned the name of a parent’s alma mater or played on a local university campus. As kids grow, they gradually realize the purpose of universities, and the conversation turns serious as they enter Grade 10. Some teens may manifest an apparent inclination towards one or several choices with rationales in mind; however, the unfamiliarity of the pool of universities, the lack of guidance, and the fear of suboptimal decision making can be overwhelming for most students. They start to ask parents, teachers, peers, and themselves, “Which university should I go to?”
As educationalists, we suggest students plan for their universities earlier and in-depth since there could be a huge discrepancy between thoughts and reality.
They should de-emphasize university rankings. Instead, they should focus on university-person fit. One university does not fit all. Teens should be matched to a university academically, personally, and socially.
What Does University-Person Fit Mean?
University-person fit is a combination of factors to determine if the student would benefit the most from choosing one particular university. Ultimately, choosing one university means giving up all other options, and such opportunity cost alarms us for careful comparisons in the decision-making process. Students should ask themselves specific questions when determining university-person fit.
Questions to Ask
1. Does this university offer the major, programs, and services to achieve my career goals?
This question is presumably the most critical question to get the conversation started. Entering Grade 10, students should have an idea about what careers they are interested in and have had explored these careers through research and extra-curricular activities. Students should be sure if the university offers the major that supports their career selection when choosing universities. When multiple universities offer the desired major, students must investigate other programs and services that can benefit their future career success.
For example, many universities offer Co-op programs to complement classroom-based learning. Students enrolled in such programs gain access to experiential job positions, allowing them to take terms off and preview a career before graduation. Students with Co-op experiences are more likely to gain industry insights, build professional networks, and succeed in getting a job right after graduation. In addition to the Co-op program, some universities may offer on-campus jobs, networking events, mentorship opportunities, and career workshops to support students’ career success.
Teens are highly encouraged to spend much time suffering on the university’s website to learn more about its programs and resources.
They should also attend info sessions for prospective students if the university hosts. Talking to alumni, especially those who graduated from the major the teen intended to seek, can also be really helpful.
2. Will I be successful in this university?
The second question can be related to the tuition, the graduate rate, average class size, grades distributions, etc. Private universities can be expensive. When selecting universities, students should acknowledge the financial debts they may encounter and understand if they will sabotage their living quality consequently. Do they need to work part-time jobs to pay the tuition? Meanwhile, students with weaker academic foundations may consider choosing a university offering smaller classes and more academic support.
Being successful in a university could also mean having a thriving social life. Where is the university? If I need to live on campus, where are its dorms and cafeteria? What activities occur on campus? How about campus safety? All these questions require students to conduct further research to depict future university life holistically.
3. Does the culture of this university fit my identity?
While academic considerations often take precedence, the milieu and campus life are nevertheless critical in determining if the student’s 4+ years in their 20s are worthwhile.
Specific universities share values that are not only compatible but also help nurture the student’s interests and develop their passions. Club opportunities, ad hoc programs, and sports teams are just some of the many more conspicuous facets of a campus culture that help students cultivate and reinforce their identity.
Achieving academic success should also not come at the cost of the student’s well-being. Before investing such a considerable amount of resources in terms of time and tuition, students should know what the university culture can offer in terms of a school-life balance and the network the student can build. Enrolling into a university is as much a selection process from the student as an admission process from the institution. Therefore, when gingerly mulling over their options, students should be cognizant of these hidden opportunity costs.
4. Does the value of the university fit my identity and future goals?
Different universities have different value propositions. While some universities prioritize academic performances during the admission process, other universities emphasize social equity and inclusivity. Some large institutions prefer students to pursue Masters or Ph.D. degrees upon completing Bachelor’s degrees, whereas some other universities promote career path enhancements.
Before selecting a particular university, students should conduct thorough research on the schools’ values. Students should reflect on these questions. What values does this university represent? What values do I have? If I were a personal brand, what are the branding essentials? Will my values resonate with the university?
In some cases, students with religious beliefs could be aware of the spiritual differences. Some private universities may affiliate with Roman Catholic, while others may annex Protestants. Consequently, students should analyze their personal beliefs and identify the most suitable value-fit university.