They Come for the View but Stay for the Transformation

Every summer a steady stream of high school students and their parents crisscross the country visiting university and college campuses. They eagerly follow student tour guides who tell of the various schools' strengths, unique characteristics, and special attributes.

At Pepperdine University, where about half of our undergraduate class comes from outside California, the visitors listen, but their heads are often turned seaward toward the Pacific Ocean, the world's largest infinity pool; seaward, where the vastness overpowers the tour guides' script. The admission counselors might as well recite the alphabet for all the visitors know. "Wow, would you look at that view!" one of my Midwestern brothers says, stopping dead in his tracks.

However weighty weather and location are in selecting the right college, a College Decision Impact Survey last year, conducted by the consulting firm of Maguire Associates and Fastweb, a scholarship-search Web site, verified that the most often cited reason for choosing one school over another is not location, or even affordability, but the presumed strength of the various academic majors offered.

This might seem pragmatic on the surface, but choosing where to attend college based on the relative strength of a particular major is like deciding on what to order at a fine restaurant before going in the front door. Far too much emphasis is placed on what kind of career one will nurture at college, rather than on what kind of life one will nurture.

Both questions warrant exploration and both need to be factored into the decision process.

All of the nation's fine colleges and universities have developed reputations for strengths in a variety of academic areas -- the natural sciences, journalism, philosophy, religion, business, and theatre. Location and stunning view aside, these are some of the top fields of endeavor (and resulting career paths) high school students gravitate toward. The end game is spelled CAREER with an eye toward figuring out what one will do for a living.

Because college students change their majors often, and because of the many wondrous and even surprising discoveries students make about themselves as free and independent beings while at college, answering the big question about their potential careers often takes a back seat to answering even bigger questions about who they are. Learning who they are might be the best way to inform what they should do.

That is the real transformative experience college life should offer young people; that is the experience toward which they should aim. Such an outcome isn't major or discipline dependent. Such outcomes have to do instead with teacher-student ratios, availability of faculty mentors, counseling resources, and the hundred things that comprise what is referred to as "campus life" -- residential accommodations, cafeteria, extra-curricular activities, study abroad opportunities, athletics, etc.

So if you are among the millions this summer who are trailing college tour guides as they tout a particular school's major enticements, whether or not there is a killer view in the equation, seek to discover what the school offers beyond mere academics.

Be alert to discerning not only your path to a chosen career, or ways to make a living. Discern, too, how your choice will help you learn to make a life.