The Wheres and Whys of Friends Select Student College Choices


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Seniors line the hall, faces aglow from their computer screens. Everyone is writing a different college application. This moment is months in the making, hours upon hours of research have been spent by students in order to decide which college is the right fit for them. In the end, they can only choose one.

Choosing where to go to college is the culmination of most students’ academic careers. The college they choose is not only the place they will be continuing their studies but also where they will live for the next four years. According to a 2014 survey by Harris Poll, the three most important factors when deciding on a specific college are the programs offered, the availability of financial aid, and the total cost of attendance. In addition to those major influencers, location, employment opportunity, and recommendations from adults guide the college choice process. These factors have stayed important in finding a college for at least the last fifty years. From person to person though, the specific reasons students choose a college vary wildly.

For Elena Miliken ‘22, location, academic availability, and moral alignment are paramount when choosing which colleges to apply to. “The first thing I looked for was… an institution that reflected my moral values.” Pomona College and Haverford College’s honor code as well as Brown University’s model of service pushed them to the top of her list. When it comes to academics, Elena wants to attend a college with a strong academic record in many disciplines so she can explore different fields. Elena is looking to study the social sciences, in particular political science or psychology, but she does not want to attend a college where that’s the focus. “I want to be a big fish in a small pond,” she says. In addition, she is looking for a smaller college that has smaller class sizes, a direct product of her enjoyment of the smaller, discussion-based learning at Friends Select.

In sharp contrast, Lucas Kim ‘22 is looking to apply to The United States Military Academy (West Point). Lucas’s college of choice has been clear for him since 7th grade. The structure, discipline, prestige, and career path have guided him to choose West Point over another college’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). The application process for him has been difficult. Lucas has had to complete three different essays, a medical examination, and a physical fitness test. On top of all that, he has to obtain a congressional nomination. This involves getting an interview with one of his congressmen and receiving their recommendation. But for Lucas, the work is all worth it in the end: “I actually loved West Point when I visited it… the regimen and discipline were what I was looking for,” he says. Lucas hopes to study defensive and strategic studies in order to build a good foundation for his future military career, but academics are less important than the military lifestyle.

Presenting a third path, Stefan Widdicombe ‘22 has a more relaxed approach than most when it comes to choosing a college. At the time of writing this, Stefan has already been accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and is only applying to one other college, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). These colleges were chosen for their location, resources, and program prestige. Stefan is looking to study some form of design but is not sure exactly what just yet. Both schools have many options for specialization in that field, which is a major deciding factor for Stefan. Additionally, RIT has a computer science program that Stefan is very interested in. He says that studying computer science is “important to me… it’s one of the reasons I’m still applying to RIT even though I’m into SCAD.” He continues, “I wanna do video game design so it’s important to [learn to] code and you can’t really get that at SCAD directly.” In the end, though, design is still what Stefan wants to learn the most, computer science is just the icing on the cake.

These three examples are unique in their approach and conclusions but fit into the wider trend of which factors are important to Friends Select students. A survey from The Falcon asked the senior class what their top three colleges are, and why they chose them. The list of top schools is a diverse jumble of small liberal arts colleges, huge research universities, and everything in between. Students from Friends Select are looking for schools that provide excellent programs in the majors they are interested in as well as the resources and prestige that comes along with that. Students are also mindful of the location and environment of prospective colleges. These factors line up closely with the national average, but notably do not mention cost.  

Everyone takes a different path to arrive at which colleges they apply to and which one they ultimately choose. Every individual has to spend the time to personally rank the myriad of factors at play. In the end, after doing research, most students can come to a confident decision on which is the right college for them. As Lucas Kim says, “Of course I’m sure I know where I want to go, I know what’s important to me.”