Outside the Box, Outside the State

Texas is pretty cool, we all know that. We have delicious food, great (crazy) weather, comfy cowboy boots, and pretty amazing sports teams. But, we’re just one state and there are many other (almost-as-cool) places worth considering as you search for colleges.

In 2011, the National Center for Education Statistics listed 6,742 colleges and universities in the U.S. with 252 located in Texas.[1] Clearly there is an option for everyone!

It can be extremely intimidating, however, to stare at a list of 6,000+ schools and wonder where on earth you belong. How will you find your school? How will you know if you really belong there?

And parents, oh parents! How will your son or daughter ever decide? How will you guide them? How can you help?

Starting early and exploring your options (all 6,742 of them) is some of the best advice we can give you. Research! (Students, we hear you groaning, but it’ll be fun, we swear!) Flip through one of those massive books in your guidance counselor’s office and look at schools with fun names, quirky majors, dorms like palaces, and so on. Think outside the box when it comes to drawing up your list of potential schools; have fun!

Here’s a personal example for you: When I was six years old, my mother was flipping through a massive book, trying to help my older brother decide where to go to college. One college in particular caught her attention; the school colors were pink and green, the name was poetic. It was perfect for her little girl (that’s me).

When my mother told me this story as I was a rising sophomore, I rolled my eyes. Yeah, right, like I was going to investigate a school because my mom had picked it out a decade ago for me. No way, I thought. (Moms, you know how this story ends, don’t you?)

My junior year I started really looking at my options. After a series of road trips around the U.S. with my dad to explore out-of-state schools, I at least knew I wanted a small (or at least, not giant) school with lots of major choices. That narrowed my list down to about 1,500 schools. Needless to say I was pretty resigned to never knowing where to go.

I spent a lot of my time in bookstores, near the college guides, ignoring the large and intimidating books with hundreds of school profiles and focusing instead on the smaller, more manageable (and hopefully more enlightening) books. Perusing the smaller books, the schools I read about there came to life and I could suddenly see myself living there for four years… or not.

My parents were thrilled when I gave them my more-or-less-final list of colleges, largely inspired by small books and where my friends were going. The list hung on the refrigerator the summer before my senior year, so, when I finally took it down to remind myself where I was applying, I wasn’t too surprised to see that my mom had scribbled her choice—the pink and green school—on the bottom.

Hey, why not, I asked myself? It seemed to match my criteria (mild winters, lots of majors) and applying would make my mom happy.

Late that year, having gotten into most of my out-of-state schools, I was suddenly faced with reality. Where on earth was I going to go? Some offers were easy to decline— “not enough scholarship” or “wow, winter is worse there than I thought”—while others were not. I will admit, I based my final decision on the adage “Mom knows best”: I chose the pink and green school. Obviously the school had other pros that helped me decide, but that was the deal-maker for me.

I know what you’re thinking: what on earth did that story have to do with anything? Well, you’ve probably thought about building your prospective college list based on prestige, legacy, and even location but have you thought about the school colors? The great name? The weird, the unlikely, and the oddly important?

Think outside of the box when you’re Googling and researching. There are 6,742 options for you. At least one must be perfect. Try not to miss it.

– Mai M.

  • Claire Stolowitz

    Lovely article! This topic is close to my heart: attending college outside of my home state was an immensely rewarding adventure for me.