What makes a school?
By Sam Perwin
This time of year, a lot of folks are thinking about college. March Madness turns sports fans' attentions to college basketball. High school seniors are hearing back from admissions offices and making decisions, and juniors are starting to take college trips and put together lists of reaches, mid-ranges, and safeties. As many of you know, my "day job" is tutoring. I work with high school kids mostly on subjects, standardized tests, and college applications. I've been doing it a long time. When the scores are in and junior year is done, it comes time to start talking about where you want to go to school. A few say things like "Princeton or bust," or the like, but most have no idea where to begin. They know they want to go "somewhere good," but they have no idea what that means for them. I often tell them to start thinking about schools in three basic terms: size, location, and what I like to call drive.
That third one gives everyone the most pause. The first two are fairly self-explanatory - how big a place do you want to be in, and do you want it to be urban, suburban, rural, etc. Figuring these things out usually makes things a lot easier in terms of narrowing down choices. The drive question, though, stumps a lot of people. What do you want to "drive" your school? Athletics? Arts? Music? Community service? Religion? People talk a lot about the "type" of person who goes to a particular school, but I never quite bought it (and we all know how I feel about type). A student said to me recently, "there are schools I think I want to go to, but I can't going to school with the people I know that go there." Therein lies the danger of linking school to personality - there were many people I dislike who went to college with me, but that doesn't mean we didn't all belong there. On a basic level, as you look at the myriad choices of colleges, better to think about the types of things you want driving your education and your experience.
I'll bring it back to Athletics. Everyone I know who went to a school with an outstanding Basketball program (Duke, UNC, UK, etc.) watches March Madness games religiously. They talk about how the entire school rallied around the basketball team and how on game days, there was basically nothing else to do. Ten, fifteen, twenty years out of college, and they're still avid supporters of the team. That is the power of drive, - - all those schools are very athletically driven.
I shared an Op-Ed on Facebook a few weeks ago by Frank Bruni, who just came out with a book on the subject called Where You Go is not Who You'll Be. He famously turned down Yale to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, and aims to assure parents and students there's more to college than a fancy name. He's absolutely right. It's much better to chose your school based on factors far more important than name. Drive is just one of the many.