Posts Tagged ‘college choices’

The Paradox of College Choices

Early one morning in your high school career, there may have been a guidance counselor walk out on stage and proclaim that you should not worry about finding a college, since in the United Sates alone, there are over 3,000 accredited institutions. You can begin choosing which college you want to attend by flipping through a review book, but after a few minutes of initial search it becomes similar to flipping through hundreds of TV channels and then saying there’s nothing on TV. Tim Harford, a reporter for the Financial Times, makes an important note on choice theory: “We are often offered an apparently pointless choice between two equally good products, not appreciating that they are only good because we have been offered the choice.”

With hopes of choosing the right school, the renowned psychologist Barry Schwartz describes how we decide on choices for almost anything. The first step would be deciding on your goals for college, and decide which goals are the most important. With a dozen or so potential options that can fulfill your goals, Schwartz writes on the importance of evaluating whether or not each choice can successfully fulfill the goals. Whether they are academic, athletic, artistic, financial, social, or any other combination, many students often find that there are multiple options that they would be happy to choose. The dilemma lies in the thought that if we decide to go to one place, we will be unhappy because we are missing out on x, y, and z which is better somewhere else. Claire Williams, co-author of The Choice Effect chimes in on this idea:

“What stops so many of us from making a commitment is our fear that once we make a choice we have to close the door on all the other options… Choosing doesn’t limit choices—it just changes them. So feel free to pick that  [college] knowing that even commitment brings a whole new set of options to be excited (and angsty) about.”

Perhaps the area where college choice is paradoxical is admissions. It’s up to the admissions office at each individual school to make sure your choice meets there criteria. Even with a narrow list of safety, target, and reach schools, more highly qualified students are applying to college than ever before, and rarely is any decision guaranteed. Other elements of the admissions process can make students even more happier, such as the choice between commitment binding Early Decision and the freedom of Regular Decision. But that’s a completely different topic with a whole other set of costs and benefits to analyze. Whichever college you do choose, I encourage you to be a satisficer. “Satisficing is a term psychologist Herbert Simon used to describe people who have criteria and standards, but are not worried about the possibility that there might be something better.”


09 2010