Question 1: What Do You Want To Do in Your Life After College?

The deadline to make a major life decision is fast approaching for tens of thousands of students. They are already receiving admissions decisions from the colleges and universities to which they have applied. How can you make the right choice for you?

This is one of several blogs directed primarily toward people who are deciding where they will go to college. However, this material is also relevant to those choosing where to apply.

These blogs touch on many of the things you should be thinking about over the next few weeks. I have already talked about the impact of the ratios of students to faculty, and to staff on campus. In future blogs I will discuss the resources on campus or in the nearby community, and other factors that can impact your choice.

Given its overall importance to not only deciding which college you will attend but many other things in your life as well, I first ask the question that may be hardest for you to answer: “What do you want to do with your life after college?”.

There are lots of factors to consider. All of them deserve careful thought: Is earning a lot important? Is having a family important? Does your plan include a long-term partner who also works outside of the home full-time?

All of these questions can impact your life once college is over. It may seem early to you, but its never too soon to start asking questions about what various careers are like and what they will ask of you and your loved ones. Doing this can help you make good decisions about not only possible careers, but also campuses that may be best able to help you achieve your goals—and give you skills that may help you if, as usually happens, your plans change.

You are already learning skills that will help you in your future career. You will develop and diversify them further while in classes, engaging in extracurricular activities, and working whether on or off campus.

Blogs like this can’t fully resolve these things for you. Your parents, teachers, and other mentors can help you if you need further guidance, but know that what they want you to do, is often not what you are best able to do. Attending college classes and engaging in extracurricular activities will further inform your choices—or give you new ideas. That said, starting with a plan—even if it changes—can help you decide what college fits your goals and needs best.

If you want to be a doctor, campuses with strong research and prehealth advising can help you. Although most colleges don’t report specific data on what percentage of their students ultimately attend medical school, I have observed that Ivy-league schools and other colleges with similar faculty-to-student ratios see a higher percentage of their students become physicians than very large schools whether public or private. You may be sure you’ll be a doctor, but my experience supported by diverse anecdotal data shows that people who plan to go to medical school, prove their intelligence by having a good backup plan.

If you want to be a computer scientist, finding faculty strong in your areas of interest is a good start. Computer Science Departments don’t always have lots of easily accessible external resources on campus to let people gain hands on experience in the way that hospitals or medical research laboratories help premedical trainees develop their skills. Therefore, finding a school co-located with companies working in tech-focused areas of interest to you may help you get the experience you need to learn your trade or decide (as most students do across all disciplines), that your first choice isn’t right for you.

If you’re hoping to go into the liberal arts, you may have submitted a portfolio of your skills already. Your teachers have doubtless encouraged you in your dreams. Hopefully, they have also told you that there are far fewer careers in music, art, or theater than there are people wanting to go into these roles.

One challenge that will arise over the next few years is that many of the jobs that “starving artists” have traditionally performed while building their portfolios will increasingly be done by robots. This means that there may be fewer “service sector” positions available to you while you’re working toward becoming an actress, musician or author. This trend, which is becoming apparent to many people, will make it very important for you to select a school that can not only teach you how to be great in your craft, but also can give you the skills that will help you support yourself while you work toward selling your first sculpture, album or play.

Be a smart life strategist. Take advice to “follow your passion” with care because passions can be ephemeral. Skills and abilities are permanent. Think carefully about new data showing your best chance to succeed and be fulfilled comes when you find work that facilitates you in using your skills, both old and new, to support yourself and contribute to the world around you in ways that make you proud and happy.

Think about the issues I discuss here and talk about elsewhere. Compare the cost of attending the campuses to which you have been admitted. Factor in the average time to degree. Don’t assume graduation after four years. Make sure to look only at the cost of the campus *after* aid rather than the total cost of college.

After doing these things, your decision may have been made for you. If not, then look at your skills, abilities, interests and goals. Match them to the colleges to which you’ve been admitted. That done, your decision may become easier—or at least you may cut the number of admitted students weekends you go to.

My other blogs discuss specific, often measurable, college attributes and the practical and environmental factors that may affect your final college choice and success once you arrive on campus.

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