Deciding Between Schools with Your Gut Feeling and Heart
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By Justin Wang

This is the season when hopefully, students will have a number of schools accepting them.  So how does one pick between schools? Should it be the biggest name school you got a “yes”?  Should it be the one with the prettiest campus? Or should it be the one where more of my friends will be attending?

The more challenging part about deciding between what college to attend centers on the abstract and the emotion. In fact, it is probably better when deciding on schools to go with your heart, your emotion and your gut feeling.


You’re going to be spending a lot of time (four years for an undergraduate degree) in one place, so you need to feel good and comfortable (emotionally) about a campus.  The atmosphere. The environment. And this is a question that only YOU, the prospective attendee, can answer – not your parents, counselor, or consultant (while of course, we can all provide input and influence you!)

So ask yourself:

“Can I see myself thriving at this school?”

“Will I be proud to be a student, graduate and alumnus of the school?”

“Do I have an emotional connection to this school?”

“In my heart, is this school a fit for me?”

I can share my experience, decades ago, when I was a high school senior in my spring semester.  I had been accepted by the University of California – Berkeley, Northwestern University, and Columbia University.   Arguably, the private universities (Northwestern and Columbia) were supposedly “higher” on the “prestige measure” than good old UC.  

And it seemed cool to go to Columbia.  If I did, my high school class would be sending a representative to every Ivy League campus that year.  My aunt, uncle and a number of cousins who lived in Queens were nearby, so I could count on some familiar faces in the area.  However, there were a few drawbacks for me.

Its location in New York City was both a plus and a minus.  A plus because there was lots to do in the city – museums, entertainment, night life.  A minus because the city also drew energy away from the campus life by comparison. And frankly, I just didn’t have a whole lot of emotional attachment to the school, no matter what famous person came from there.  Not to mention, as a rather sheltered 17-year old from the California burbs, I wasn’t ready for prime time in the big city.

Northwestern University I had even less of an emotional attachment, so I really didn’t consider that school at all.  

Frankly, UC Berkeley was my dream school – for a lot of reasons.  It was far enough from home to live on campus, but near enough to see family often.  I loved the campus setting – on a hill overlooking the San Francisco Bay. And there was the family and friends connections – my father came to America to study at Cal for a master’s degree, as did many of my parents’ close friends.  And the idea of getting a degree at a relatively low cost was attractive, too.

And after our high school band participated in the Cal Band’s High School Band Day, I got hooked on joining the Cal Marching Band.  That was probably the tipping factor that confirmed it for me – it would be a blast to play in front of over 50,000 screaming fans in a loud stadium!  So I enrolled at Cal and joined the Band. Which was great because on a campus with over 30,000 people, I would instantly know about 170 people just by being in band.  I am grateful for the experience which prepared me for life and learning up to this day.

So what will be your defining moment of truth to pick that college to enroll?  The tipping factor may be something emotional, as opposed to rational. Which is not a bad way to go.