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College choice: More than a Mascot


A column by Chad Flannery, Executive Dean of Student Services at Southeastern Illinois College

Have you ever noticed that colleges and universities experience an enrollment bump after they win a championship?  Don’t believe me?  When a sports team and mascot get the added notoriety from sports success, the extra exposure typically equals increased admissions application for the school.  Potential students want to be part of an exciting culture, but does the love of a mascot really mean that a school is right for a student?

We hear it all the time in regards to relationships, work, or whatever.  Context matters.  Fit is important.  The same is true for picking a college.  Different schools fit some students better than others.  That’s the reality, and it’s okay to admit that.  But if you’re choosing a college based on the mascot, you’re making a major life decision based on a fictional character.  Think about it this way: if the use of mascots and characters were acceptable methods of product persuasion, we’d still see Joe Camel billboards along the side of the road.  Now that’s extreme, but you get my point. However, in what other walk of life would it be socially acceptable to base a major life decision on such a simple measure?  Would you take a job with less pay because you liked the company logo better?  Would you pick a spouse based on their favorite Disney princess?  No, you’d never do that!  (And if you did, that’s a whole other conversation we need to have.)

Instead, when picking a college, you have to do your homework.  For those of us in the college biz, homework is kind of our thing.  But it’s true—homework helps you get it right.  The same is true for deciding where to go.  You have to find your fit.  You have to figure out what matters to you.  That’s going to take some effort on your part, but here are some things you should definitely consider.

First, what do you want to do with your life?  That’s a tough question for anyone, and it’s especially tough for someone coming out of high school.  I admit that halfway through college I still had no clue what I wanted to do.  I want you to know that’s okay, but you still need to have a plan, and I had to figure out a plan for the interim.  You may not know what you want to do, but you can explore what you’re comfortable doing after college.  Ask yourself: does my college help my plan?  Is it really geared towards helping me achieve my goal?  Does it have my major?  If I change my mind, do they have a suitable back-up for me?  How difficult is it to move to my back-up?

Second, who is teaching and where are you learning?  You may not realize it, but some college courses are taught by graduate students.  Again, that’s perfectly fine and acceptable, but does that matter to you?  Is it more important to have a professor than graduate student?  What experience do they have and can they help move you to your goal?  Can you relate to them?  Are you more comfortable in class of 200 or 20?  Is it important if an instructor knows you by name?  Do you learn better face-to-face, or are you self-disciplined enough to try an online course?

Third, what’s the cost?  You may not realize it, but education is an investment, so what sort of return on investment is acceptable to you?  Based on your plan, what sort job prospects can you reasonably expect after you graduate?  Will you have to move, and are you willing to move?  Based on the salary you expect after graduation, is it worth the tuition you’ll pay at college?  If two schools offer the same major, is the price difference meaningful to you?  Are you willing to explore the financial resources available at most colleges (because they are available)?

There’s tons to consider when picking a college.  A mascot is great and wonderful, and it can even help you identify with your new school.  But truth be told, a mascot is not real.  What is real is that your education is about you, so make it about you.  Do your homework on yourself, and forget the cuddly character.