Choosing a College? Don't Do This

04/21/2015 09:08 am ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015
kristian sekulic

It's getting down to the wire for members of the Class of 2015, who have until May 1 to put down a deposit at the one (and only one) college they'll be attending. I tell my students there's only so much data they can use in this decision, and they should turn off the data sources around April 20 and follow their well-informed hearts. To support that point, here are a few final ideas on what not to consider in a college decision.

A major you made up in the first place. Now that it's over, you can tell the truth -- you really don't know what you want to study in college. You said it was going to be Archaeology because that's the first thing that came to mind at your college interview, or when Uncle Jim asked you in front of everyone at Thanksgiving, and, well, you couldn't really say "I don't know," right?

If you've somehow ended up with three colleges that offer little else besides classes like From Darth Vader to Indiana Jones: A Family Tree That Needs Pruning, it may be time to re-evaluate your list, since archaeology isn't your true calling after all. Yes, this may raise the ire of your parents, but better to tell them now than after you've earned a year's worth of credits that won't transfer.

Undecided is the most popular major for college freshmen, and with good reason. If you need time to sort out your future, pick a college that gives you that time. Uncle Jim will be pleased in the long run -- more important, so will you.

Where your high school sweetheart goes. I know exactly how you feel. You can easily see the two of you together when you announce your run for the White House as the high school sweethearts whose love lasted forever. That would be great.

Here's the thing -- not all high school sweethearts go to the same college. They go to different schools, find a way to share those experiences with each other, graduate from college, and start their life together. Two different lives that are one.

It can work that way for you, too. If nursing school is their thing, you can support them -- but you don't have to go there, too. I mean, they were in marching band while you ran cross country, and that worked out, right? They follow their passions, you follow yours, and you have a rich life together through the trust you have in one another. That's the basis of a good life, a good relationship, and a good college choice.

Money only. College A and College B both have great majors, and each campus gives you the right blend of comfort and challenge. College A is $20,000 less than College B, so you pick College A. Great.

College C is offering your buddy a full ride, but doesn't offer either of the majors your friend wants, is in a part of the country they don't like, and has a campus that gave them a bad feel. College D isn't perfect and involves some debt, but your pal loves it -- it's just that College C is such a bargain.

Except in this case, it isn't. It costs a lot of money to go to college, but it costs a lot of everything else to go to a college that gives you neither a promising future nor an exciting present. Think carefully about the money, but make a choice that wisely balances long-term financial debt with short-term personal sacrifices. Too much of either is a bad deal.