Defining and then summarizing important variables is a great tool for comparing options. In the College search, this process begins with deciding what should be included on the list of important variables to compare, but is refined as you realize you are willing to compromise when a College comes short on one of your variables but remains on the potentials list. Here is an example:
As you compare Colleges, you realize that a College you really like doesn’t offer both degrees you are interested in pursuing. Attending this College would mean either passing on one of those degrees or possibly lengthening your time in College, as you have to earn the degrees from two different Colleges. On the other hand, the College you really like has a strong music program and has both intramural and club swimming. The other Colleges that offer both degrees either don’t have much of a music program or don’t offer club swimming. You decide to leave that College on your potentials list, which leaves you pondering what is most important to you. If the College that doesn’t have a double degree isn’t eliminated, are there other Colleges you should re-consider, that you eliminated because they don’t offer the double degree? Does not having a strong music and swimming program a deal breaker?
Here is a sample Breakdown of Important Variables Whenever possible, I try to make these breakdowns in Spreadsheet format, to make them both more sortable and for ease of comparison. But sometimes a spreadsheet won’t do, as in this case. Here is an explanation of what made it onto this sample breakdown.
- The first four items all have to do with money:
- Tuition, Room & Board
- Graduation Rate
- AP Credit
The first 2 items have to do with how much the College costs on an annual basis, the next 2 items are identifying how long you might attend the College. Notes are included about guaranteed housing or minimal required years on campus, in case how long you can/must stay on campus is an important variable for you. Knowing how many years you may be staying on campus can be important, because room and board may be less or more expensive off campus. If it’s difficult to graduate in 4 years and/or you are receiving very little AP credit, then you will likely spend more time on campus getting your degree, which increases the amount of tuition you will pay.
- Campus Size
You may decide either the physical size of a campus, number of enrolled students and/or average class size is an important consideration for you. The person who made this breakdown was concerned mainly about the average class size, but wanted to consider the number of students, because even in a large school with small classes, the campus dynamic usually changes when there are many students on campus. They also wanted to consider whether graduate students were on campus, because that might mean graduate student teachers, less research opportunities for undergraduate students or possibly access to graduate level classes as an undergraduate. They chose to add campus size, because they felt it would be a consideration if the campus was unusually large, which might mean long walks to get to some classes, or unusually dense, in terms of the number of students compared to the campus size. In this case, there was one College that was unusually dense and another College that was unusually large. This might not be an important variable, but it may become one if it varies widely from the norm. I suggest looking not merely at average class size, but also how many classes have less than 20 students, more than 50 students, etc. You may choose to not list all of that information in this Breakdown, but you would add a comment if a College was unusual in the way the Class Size broke down.
The last 3 items have to do with activities that are important to the prospective student. Note that these items are not listed as a yes or no. The activities summary include factors the student has discovered that are relevant to their particular situation. For example, this student is interested in performing in a College Orchestra. They’ve learned that some Colleges give priority to music majors, which is important if this student is not planning on being a music major but hopes to play in the Orchestra.
Note that none of the items in this Sample Breakdown include any emotional/gut feedback. That information is compared separately. This breakdown is a logical summary to help you be practical about your potential Colleges. If the student fell in love with a College that did not show favorably in this Sample Breakdown, they will have to spend time either a) justifying why this College should remain on the potential College list, b) reconsidering what are the most important variables, or c) eliminating this College from the potential list.