September 2001
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Decisions, Decisions: Choosing a Univeristy or College
By Vanessa J., University of Calgary, Calgary AB

In high school, the university decision process was anything but easy for me. It wasn't that I got denied by my top choices or concerns about student debt - I just wasn't sure where I wanted to go to school.

At the beginning of my last year of high school, teachers and my parents were constantly asking me ‘What are you doing after high school? What university/college are you going to attend?’ I couldn’t answer them. I wasn't totally sure what I wanted to do but I had narrowed it down to either social work or psychology. After much thought and discussion with my parents and guidance counsellor, I applied to several universities.

I investigated Social Work and Psychology programs in several universities and applied to schools in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. I had the acceptance letters from each of the schools taped up on my wall and I would look at them every night before I went to sleep in hopes that the decision would come to me during my dormancy. It didn't happen. I kept telling myself that if I waited, the answer would eventually come to me. That didn't happen either.

Eventually, my indecisiveness caught up to me and I was forced to make up my mind.

I wound up enrolling at the University of Calgary, not because I really wanted to go there, but because it was close to home, cheaper than the other schools I had been accepted to, and seemed like a relatively safe choice.

Because of my indecision right up to the end I have realized the importance of the university decision process. I have also realized that there are a lot of factors to think about when you are deciding on which college you want to attend.

Academic Programs
One of the primary reasons that people decide to go to a particular school is because of the academic programs. You don't want to end up going to a school whose focus is on liberal arts if your dream is to become a rocket scientist. You should choose a school that has a curriculum that will allow you to study something that you are interested in pursuing as a career. If you plan to be a lawyer, choose a university that has a strong law program, not one that main focus seems to be engineering or business. If you are unsure of what area of study you want to enter, a good idea might to doing some career planning exercises. Your teacher or guidance counsellor can help you. Human Resources Canada also has excellent career planning resources geared toward youth.

The location of the school is a big reason why people choose a particular university. A lot of people from Alberta go east to see the country and leave their safe home environments. Others want to stay in their home province to study and work. Certain areas of the country also are better regions for particular job fields so that once you finish your program of study, you are in the area where jobs are available. When choosing a university, you also want to think about what is beyond the campus.

While the size of the classroom and school may not seem that important to a lot of high school students, these are factors that can have a huge impact on your education and on how much you enjoy your college experience. A lot of people don't want to be stuck listening to a teacher assistant lecture in a 300-seat auditorium - something common in large schools. Larger schools tend to be a bit impersonal - ask yourself if this bothers you. Often times, the teachers don't know your name and you are just another face in the crowd.

With smaller schools the classes are smaller and the professors have more time and availability to interact with the students. On the other hand, larger universities have more name recognition, which can help when applying for jobs and internships. While the personal and impersonal approach to education isn't something that is important for everybody, it is definitely something to consider when making your university decision.

Social Life
Don't think that academics are the most important thing in college, though. Fun classes won't save an awful on-campus social life. The people that you meet in college such as your friends and professors will not only help you out socially, but they will end up being important business contacts - maybe even business partners - in the future. So it's important that you go to a college that you know attracts students with interests similar to yours, such as Psych clubs. Or if you also have a passion for music and drama, does the school have a Drama Club? If you’re into sports, do they have a basketball, soccer or swim team you can join?

These are just a few factors to think about when you are trying to decide on your university and hopefully, they will help you to feel good about your decision. Good Luck!


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