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How Do I Decide Which College or University to Attend?

Infographic by Yokoland. Answers "What qualities were very or somewhat important when you were deciding which undergraduate college to attend?" in survey by the NewYork Times (click to view).

Infographic by Yokoland. Answers “What qualities were very or somewhat important when you were deciding which undergraduate college to attend?” in survey by the New York Times (click to view).

Big decisions often come down to the smallest details. As you grew from a baby to a toddler to a pre-teen, your parents increasingly gave you more freedom to make your own choices. While you may not have noticed it, you’ve been gaining valuable experience in making tough decisions. Now it’s time to make an essential lifetime decision – what post-secondary school to attend. You’re numb from the multitude of choices available. Some of them have sent current students to showcase (through creative, sometimes quirky presentations) how cool it is to go their school; others have sent you beautifully-designed catalogues with pictures of architecturally sound and well-preserved buildings older than both your parents combined, boasting pictures of perfect college students sitting on the greenest grass you’ve ever seen (Photoshop?), happily working on assignments with expensive laptops, soaking up the summer sun.

You try to block out the persuasion techniques and consider all angles as you solve this choice paralysis and make a well-rounded decision. Unlike that car or cool phone, your college degree has no return policy upon completion. It’s important to step back and take a calm look before jumping in. When you do, make sure you’re covering aspects that matter to you too, not just what you’ve been told to look for in a school (brochures aren’t everything). Here are two Ds you should consider:

Your Desire

You love clothes, flashing lights and the runaway. For as long as you can remember, you’ve always wanted to work in the fashion industry. Or maybe you see yourself as a life saver; always looking to help people, you’ve seen every episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and you’re convinced that the life of a medical professional is your calling. As the saying goes, “if you do what you love you’ll never work another day in your life.” This doesn’t simply mean that you should sit around pondering how to turn your NASCAR obsession into a money-making idea; it’s important to be realistic as well. Remember, once you do something for a living, it changes everything; you’re no longer doing it for pleasure, you’re now doing it to put food on the table. You’ll probably still enjoy it, possibly even love it, but it will likely be more demanding because of the responsibilities that go with it. You’ll have to meet the expectations of clients, bosses and coworkers, and slowly but surely, your obsession may start taking on the features of hard work. Look at Mark Zuckerberg for an extreme example. He started Facebook as a hobby; soon after, it became his job (and certainly pays well), but now, after taking the company public, he’s responsible for keeping multitudes of shareholders, the great majority of whom he doesn’t know personally, happy. Find the balance that works for you.

Industry Demand

20 years ago, there were no job postings for Social Media Manager, Application Developer, or Cloud Computing expert, but head to LinkedIn today. They’re EVERYWHERE. At the current speed of technological advancement, the jobs that will become available in the next 20 years will certainly be something most current students are not prepared for.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the demand for jobs such as Insurance Underwriter, Reporter, Database Administrator, Farmer, and Postal Service Clerk is decreasing. However, regional demand is a great way to gauge the potential return on your educational investment. According to the Globe and Mail, in Canada today, there is a shortage of skilled workers in particular regions for jobs including Heavy Duty Equipment Mechanics, Biologists, Plumbers, Physiotherapists and Welders. These occupations command higher than average income levels, which makes them quite attractive when you’re preparing to save money by skimping on shoelaces for the next four years.

If you have a strong sense of knowledge of your own desire as well as the demand levels in your desired industry, it should not be a challenge to decide who offers the required courses. It’s perfectly normal to be nervous when making such a big decision, but before settling into a certain degree option, make sure you fully understand the importance of the first two Ds.