Fit, Not Famous: Why Harvard may not be the Best Choice for College

Every child faces the same crushing dilemma: what college should I go to? Harvard is usually listed as among the top colleges of the USA, and anyone who loves a “best ever” list will spend time drooling over the college rankings splattered all over the internet.

But, really, before you send off the non-refundable application fees, ask yourself what college is right for me.

How to pick a college isn’t easy. After all, not only does it cost a lot (an average of $33,420 for a private college for the 2016-2017) and horror stories of students saddled with debt abound, but the costs have only been climbing for the past twenty years. College is an investment in your future. Your networking. Your career. Your retirement. Some websites offer a college match quiz as if you were looking for a four-year date.

But the best judge of a college isn’t a quiz algorithm, it’s you. Finding a college that fits your personality doesn’t mean packing your bags and heading off to meet the Pilgrim. It doesn’t mean juggling “best values schools” versus “A-Plus Schools for B Students” or the “Top Public Schools.” What it does mean is taking an honest look at yourself, your values, and your goals. Polish your strengths, patch up your weaknesses and put your best foot forward in an honest direction.

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If your hobby is surfing, and you managed to hang ten while scoring a high SAT, Harvard probably isn’t the place for you.

If your dream is to have a vineyard and mix fine wines, Harvard probably isn’t for you.

If you want to turn your comic book collection into a serious field of study, Harvard probably isn’t the place for you.

If you have a fondness for gunsmithing and have a tommy gun and brown bess stashed under your bed, Harvard probably isn’t the place for you.

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College isn’t just a giant study hall—although it can be if that’s your thing—it’s also a place to hang, to make life-long connections, and to explore the world around you. A “good fit” means finding the right vibe; Harvard’s most popular course, Computer Science 50, has over 800 students enrolled in it, while an intro to Economics has 711. These courses are super awesome, no doubt, but if you’re the type who can’t stand being a face in a crowd, then these intro classes might not be your cup of veritas. If you want a hip school with a modern vibe and find old brick buildings reeking of tradition a bit stuffy, Harvard probably won’t set your groove on fire.

But wait! All this makes a perfect amount of sense, you say, but what about the money? I want a six-figure salary when I graduate. Sure, who doesn’t? But what you get out of college depends on what you put into it. Just like high school—but more. Harvard (and any school, really) produced its share of bums, criminals, and jail birds. When weighting fit vs. fame, isn’t it better to find a school that you can call home?

So, if not the Top Ten, then where? How to decide? There are 7,236 post-secondary schools in the U.S. Don’t go through them one at a time, and don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

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Man can’t fly, but the sky’s the limit if you prepare. Knowing where your passions lie is great, but addressing your weaknesses will also open more doors—just in case that Mortuary Studies major requires a bit more in writing or math skills than you thought. Take a remedial task or seek out a tutor. Taking some time out to turn those weaknesses into strengths might take you away from what you really want to do in life. But when it comes to building up you and your future, that’s an investment worth making.

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