3 ways to choose a college

This post first appeared on the POV40IQ newsletter.

We’ve written a lot about education: the XMBA, film school, and culinary un-school in France. There’s also the JTBD approach to choosing college. There’s so much written about school selection because there’s no great single metric. There are numbers like tuition, magazine rankings, and graduation rates and employment prospects. But there is no unifying or simple equations like when buying a television.

The TV sizing guide.

This makes college choice a funky problem. Most students optimize for cost, given some range from home. I’d imagine that comments like, it’s the same chemical atoms no matter where you go, is uttered many times in many places.

But just because there is a system doesn’t mean it’s a good system. Another way to choose in wicked environments is to select a single priority. Pro-choice or pro-life voters do a version of this.

When it comes to college then, here are three ways to think about one big thing that might matter more than all the other things and make a college choice easier*.

Are these the kind of people I wanted to be surrounded by? If someone is the average of the five people they spend the most time with, then this would be a good question to ask. Surfaced by Justin Mikolay, it’s not the kind of thing I thought about at eighteen, but seems obvious decades later.

At the time I thought college was college. One school was as good as another. However, certain schools like Mikolay’s Naval Academy are all together different. Think of this question as a form of positive-sampling-error.

Is this the fastest path? More young people now, than I remember as a young person, seem to want to optimize college like a weekend obstacle course race. If I can get this done first and take this shortcut I’ll be able to shave twenty-percent off my time. Morgan Housel tweets about the low-cost (time and money) aspect of this option.

This perspective makes sense. Colleges are still four years, even though students learn more in high school than ever before. Colleges are still going up in price, even though it seems like the supply should be optimized as well.

Is this the most educational? There are pockets of incredible opportunity in the college curriculum. Michael Mauboussin teaches at Columbia. Tyler Cowen teaches at George Mason and says how helpful the “Mason lunches” are.

The internet is amazing at information transfer but hasn’t (yet, will it ever?) offer the value of lunch in gif form?

That said, life life, college’s value is a sum of what someone puts into it. What these questions really might be is a forcing function. Answer and act.

2 thoughts on “3 ways to choose a college”

  1. With student debe in the trillions I would suggest the young to xhoose a trade school or community college. And there are the likes of Udemy, Coursera ans EdX that offer degrees and and certificates at a reasonable cost.


    1. A great point. There’s never been more options for education and HS students need a nudge to think about the opportunity cost


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