Around this time each year, an old person who attended college in the 60's or 70's will fart out a column or a list of advice telling you how to pick your school. These columns are normally woefully untethered to reality—they don't address the biggest issue affecting kids considering college right now (more on that later), and they typically place an emphasis on things that sound good in commencement speeches, like choosing a school for its recreation programs, or its study-abroad programs, or its willingness instilled in graduates to sound smug when giving the name of your SWEET DEAR ALMA MATER in 30 years. Etc.
This year's offender is Frank Bruni of the New York Times. Bruni's column on Sunday turns the college search into a subjective choice based on being "yanked" out of your comfort zone. And I'm paraphrasing here, but he says that traditional "factoids"—like percentage of applicants a school takes, which school has the best alumni network, and how much money graduates make on average—matter; just not as much as studying abroad, or finding a college in a big city if you're from a rural area. (No, seriously, that's a criteria.)
The dumbness of the column isn't his fault, really. Bruni is just regurgitating the same list of advice which comes out every winter and which is only applicable to, maybe, 1% of the high school student population. This 1% is wealthy, very intelligent, typically has gone to a competitive prep school, and has the luxury of picking from a wide variety of out-of-state schools. For everyone else who wants to be set for the job search after school and kill it socially while there, being asked to take into account things like what guest speakers schools attract is utterly asinine.
This is where we come in. The deadline for many schools came last week, so the choice near for a lot of high school seniors. And as an appropriately irresponsible bro just out of school who saw and made my share of mistakes in the college search, here's the advice you need:
DO: Make debt one of your primary concerns.
This is the main gripe I have with Bruni and other writers of that ilk, so this will make up the largest part of this column.
Picking a school based on your feelings as you walk around campus is all well and good, but the reality is that if you don't consider the finances of the matter (if your parents aren't covering it all, that is), then you'll be screwed in your 20's—stuck under a mountain of debt that is fucking crippling the lives of people I know who are just out of school. The average student debt is $26,500. There are 64 colleges where 90 percent of graduates have debt. The numbers on the matter are staggeringly high. (I would make a joke here, something like, "Hey, they're higher than Snoop Dogg on 4/20!" but I won't, due to not being able to afford to take an extra class on creative writing which caused me to never learn to write a decent metaphor. Maybe this is Rick Reilly's problem.)
Then, after you've collected the bills and written a document signed in your blood to that strumpet Sallie Mae, you make the choice to go to law, business, or med school? 1. Your next few years are really going to suck, sorry. 2. For law, at least, there's no real guarantee that you'll have the job you want waiting for you when you get out. 3. You'll find yourself crushed by even MORE debt. I have a friend who is paying $2,500 a month just for the pleasure of getting his JD. That doesn't include what he still owes for the undergrad education.
People unfortunately can't overlook this anymore. It has to be a top priority for picking a school from now—just as much, or higher, than the touchy-feely crap. Your 20s and 30s are at stake here. How else are you going to be able to afford all the fun shit everyone is else is going through at that age, like overpaying for dates and buying Advil in bulk for the increasingly brutal hangovers?
Bottom line: the expensive school you got into may not be the best bet.
Which goes hand in hand with...
DO: Strongly, strongly consider your state school.
Thought experiment: You're a high school senior and you consider yourself a good writer. (Dork.) You'd like to do that one day. So you look at schools nationally recognized as places where aspiring writers go—Brown, liberal arts schools like Williams—and you decide to go to one of the 50 grand-a-year spots because they're the best, and they'll really further your career.
Then, you get to the college and its writing classes, and you immediately smell the heaping piles of horse manure that waft from its ivory towers, and you want out. A new degree, a new career, whatever.... You just can't take one more hipster saying "I feel Walt Whitman actually meant this..." while picking at an arugula salad. But the problem is, you're stuck in this school that you solely picked because of the career you wanted when you were 17.
Herein lies the appeal of the state school. It's large enough that odds are, if you pick a new major, it'll have a program that is quality and that fits your needs. And if you're smart and at least make an attempt to do your work, you're not really screwing yourself over long-term by choosing public over private. Princeton economist Alan Krueger has now conducted two studies that prove that students with similar characteristics who went to an Ivy League school versus a state school ultimately earn the same amount. And like I said before, you won't be stuck with as much debt.
Plus, let's face it: Girls are WAY hotter at state schools. Krueger hasn't run the numbers on that yet, but BroBible has. Informally.