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What type of student are you?
You are The Creative. You love to create and engage in an artistic domain. A life lived primarily as a creator requires the discipline and patience to create every day and develop routines to ensure productivity.
College Degrees for This Building Block
Theater and Dance
The Polymath is someone with a wide range of knowledge, someone who knows a lot about many different subjects.
Asian Cultures and Languages
You are The Builder. You enjoy building things, fixing things, or developing something new.
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You are The Analyst. You are similar to the Polymath type; the difference is that you are more likely to focus on a specific field and you are more inclined to be hyperfocused in advancing your understanding of that field.
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Environmental Science (Geological Sciences)
Management Information Systems
You feel a specific call on your life to fight injustice or to help those who are hurting. You are The Philanthropist.
Families and Society
Human Development and Family Sciences
Youth and Community Studies
You are The Teacher. Without you, there are no genius inventions and breakthroughs. Without a Teacher to guide a student, mastery cannot be achieved. It is the Teacher who leads the student through deliberate practice. It is the Teacher who guides the student to appropriate methods of work. Without the Teacher, the student might work hard and put in lots of hours, but the efforts are inefficient because they aren’t focused on the areas of needed improvement.
All-Level Generic Special Education
Applied Learning and Development
Communication and Leadership
Early Childhood to Grade 6 Generalist
Kinesiology and Health Education
You are The Healer. You people have a desire to heal hurting, injured, and suffering people.
By definition, a community college is “a two-year school that offers reasonably priced higher education as a pathway to a four-year degree.” Community colleges fill two primary needs to two very different types of students.
First, community colleges provide workforce training for a variety of skills, trades, and occupations through associate degrees and other certificate-based trainings. Community colleges can be an affordable and convenient way to learn a new trade or achieve certification needed to practice in your state. Second, students seeking credits to transfer to a four-year college or university in the future can use community college to their advantage. We will focus on the second set of students in this section.
Community college can be an extremely helpful and cost-effective way to knock out a significant chunk of college credit at an absurdly low cost. When I (Lee) went, community college was a fraction of the cost of the local four-year university, and since that time, the school has set up an agreement with the local high school to grant free tuition to all high school graduates! Community college can be an amazing deal for those who don’t have the finances or can’t move away to go to school.
The downside is, community college can also be a place people go and rack up a ton of college credit that isn’t counted toward a four-year degree. I had a great experience with my local community college. It was ten minutes from the house I grew up in, and I spent my first fall, spring, and summer terms after high school taking as many classes as I could. At the end of my first year, I had over fifty college credits, and that year set the path for allowing me to finish my undergraduate degree in three years. Honestly, no one really cares where you spent your first year or two at school—no one at work, in your personal life, or on admissions committees for master’s or PhD programs will bat an eye if they find out you started at a community college. This option can be a great tool, but you must use it wisely.
The reputation of a community college is that it’s for high school graduates to land somewhere because they are unsure of what to do with their future—community college is a cheap place to figure it out. This is 100% not true. As you look at graduation rates, you will see community colleges have some of the lowest rates. This is because a lot of students transfer out, but also because if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing once you get out, and how you’re using your time at the community college to achieve your goals, you are highly unlikely to succeed. The reality of a community college is opposite of the perception. To succeed at community college, you need to be much more focused and prepared. You’ll be going to school with a lot of working adults with kids, high school grads with full-time jobs, and people in the workforce looking to perfect their skills. Community college can be fun, and there is good community at this type of school, but it is for serious students; you aren’t going to get the handholding and care you will at other schools. Oftentimes, their size and complexity don’t allow for the atmosphere that a liberal arts school is known for.
The strategy of taking classes at community college toward my four-year degree worked in my favor. I found the eventual degree I wanted first, and I made sure that every course I took went toward that degree program. At the time, I thought that was what everyone did. I didn’t think anything I was doing was novel or special. Unfortunately, many students miss this opportunity! The students who are able to use community college as a tool are the ones who enter with a plan.
Also, please remember: the associate degree is not the end goal. I never achieved an associate degree because the school wanted me to take twelve credit hours of courses that wouldn’t transfer. Never in my life have I regretted that decision. With few exceptions—like the trade and certificate jobs mentioned earlier—community college is best used as an inexpensive bridge between high school and your final college or university. But if you go the community college route, you need to have a long-term plan just as much as—if not more than—other students.
Here is an unrelated pro tip for those of you who are choosing to start at a community college: save your free electives for your final university. This can be helpful in several ways. First, your final university will likely have a wider range and more interesting set of classes to choose from to fulfill your elective requirements. Second, many schools don’t count the GPA that you attained in classes that you transfer. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to increase your GPA, it’s nice to have some free electives to do that with instead of only having the more difficult junior- and senior-level courses remaining in your discipline.
 Brianna Burrows, “What is a Community College in the USA?” studyusa.com, accessed February 25, 2018, https://studyusa.com/en/a/1236/what-is-a-community-college-in-the-usa.
 Meredith Kolodner, “Why are graduation rates at community colleges so low?” The Hechinger Report, May 5, 2015, http://hechingerreport.org/new-book-addresses-low-community-college-graduation-rates/.
Liberal Arts College
The term liberal arts college is thrown around a lot. The definition will vary depending on who is defining the term, but these colleges usually focus on undergrad education in the arts and sciences. Liberal arts colleges often have a common curriculum that all students must take. This can be a small set of intensive primary classes or an entire two-year block of coursework that everyone takes together, but the goal is to provide a broad, general knowledge base that is both shared by students of the university and helpful to develop graduates with intellectual abilities to succeed after college. In short, the common curriculum serves as a unifying feature among students.
My (Lee’s) wife attended a small liberal arts college that did not have a large two-year unified block of study but, rather, a few intensive classes that the school requires everyone to take. When she meets fellow alumni, it never fails that the conversation will at some point turn to their Western Civilization coursework (which they oddly all refer to as Civ). As someone who went to a large regional university, I do not understand this experience. I have more in common with a business major at a different university than I would an engineering or social work major who attended my alma mater. This fragmentation of the student experience isn’t as strong in liberal arts colleges. The shared coursework gives students a unified sense of purpose and meaning, and these commonalities can make for a more positive and connected college experience.
Liberal arts colleges also typically do well at providing a broad and diversified educational experience. In larger universities, it is much easier to specialize. This has its advantages, but one disadvantage is that it’s easier to get out of school with little to no exposure to some content. Since graduation, I have had to go back and read a great deal on philosophy, history, literature, and other subjects I feel like I missed out on as I raced through my undergraduate degree. I wouldn’t have gotten away with that at a liberal arts college.
Another difference is that liberal arts colleges are generally more teaching-focused—meaning, the faculty are less concerned with doing original research.
Not all teaching institutions are created equal, so be sure to know how to judge the schools you are researching. The school might say they are teaching-focused, but sometimes to offset the less-rigorous faculty research expectations at these institutions, the teaching loads can be much higher than at larger, more research-intensive schools. Ask questions about what kind of course loads your professors will be teaching. If they are twice that of your nearby regional university, you might not be getting a more hands-on approach because the professors are too busy keeping up with their classes.
Liberal arts institutions are often lauded for their smaller class sizes and greater student–instructor interaction. If you are looking for a faculty member to help mentor you, or if you need a strong recommendation letter to achieve your post-college plans, then a liberal arts college might make sense for you.
Regional Four-Year University
Regional four-year universities might have the highest variance of any category of school. In more populated areas, these schools can have enrollments of 10,000 students or more, while less densely populated areas might only support a regional university of a few thousand. I have a great deal of experience with these types of institutions from both a student and faculty perspective. I have taught at large regional universities (40,000 students) as well as smaller schools (less than 3,000 students). After community college, I attended a large regional university for all my secondary education, including my bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral work. For me, the key drivers of this decision were cost and location. I am lucky to live within driving distance of multiple regional four-year universities, so I had my pick. Not all areas are like this, but location is a large draw for most of these regional universities. The ability to stay relatively close to home is key for many students’ situation.
Regional four-year universities are also highly competitive on cost. They fill a needed middle ground between the largely populated state institutions and smaller liberal arts colleges, in that they typically are large enough to offer a robust set of degrees and course offerings, but not so large that you become just another student going through the program. The wide variety in regional four-year universities leads to unique specializations and focuses that vary by school. Investigate the schools near you, talk to people in the workforce, and find out what the school is known for.
If you plan to start your career in your hometown, a good regional four-year university might have as strong a reputation as a large state university. The problem is that these reputations are not consistent everywhere you go. Your degree might be more valuable in the area where the university is well known. Most of these schools are not large enough to have a national reputation. Ten years into your career, it won’t matter. Your work experience and the knowledge, skills, and abilities you bring to a company will earn you a good job, but to place well in your first post-college job, you might be more location-constrained if you are coming from a regional four-year university. For many people, this is ideal; but for some, this might steer you away from this option.
Large State University
Large state universities are some of the most well-known colleges in the United States. They are the largest schools that play each other in football on national television on Saturdays in the fall and whose jerseys are sold in sports stores across the nation. From an academic standpoint, these universities, due to their size, offer the most robust and varied classes, coursework, and degree plans of all the college options available. If you have a niche degree you would like to pursue, a large state university might be your only option.
In addition to course offerings and degree plans, one advantage that large state universities have is the built-in network. They do not have the small class sizes and the tight-knit community built around standard courses you will receive in a liberal arts college, but they make up for that in scale. They have so many graduates that when you earn a diploma, you are now in their club.
In my state, Texas A&M University is the best example of this phenomenon. I honestly don’t get it from the outside looking in, but they are a club. You can spot an Aggie from a mile away. Oftentimes they are wearing the maroon school color and sporting the large class ring. I know people who have named their child Kyle after Kyle Field, the stadium in College Station where the Aggies play football. They have a shared language, shared hand motions they learn to mimic during football games, and a host of other shared traditions and experiences unique to the students of Texas A&M University. To those not part of the club, it can seem rather cultish, but there is no denying the fact that the system works. The built-in network available to graduates is highly valuable. Aggies hire Aggies. Love them or hate them, you can’t deny there is value in graduating into such a strong college network.
If you want to attend a large state university, examine the industry you wish to work in and see if a school has a strong pipeline of former students in a ready-made network. If you expect to need a large, well-developed network to gain access to your industry of choice or to gain promotions throughout your career, a large state university might be the right place for you.
On the other hand, you will want to avoid a common mistake students make: being blinded by the cool factor. These schools are generally fine, but don’t overvalue a school because of the football team. College sports change, and they can change rapidly. If you went to SMU in the eighties or, more recently, Penn State or Baylor because you wanted a lifetime of watching quality college football, you’re going to be disappointed. Recent scandals have set those programs back decades. You are making a big decision that will dramatically influence where you will live and what you will study for the next four years of your life. Don’t take that decision lightly, and don’t base it on what colors you like best or how much you like watching sports.
Engage in a proper analysis of the university using variables that will matter to your career. These schools can be very helpful as a tool in your quest to live the life you were meant to live. At the same time, though, they can be overvalued based on variables that aren’t important in the long run. Don’t make that mistake.
Finally, we come to elite institutions. These are the Ivy League schools and a handful of other colleges and universities highly regarded in the very upper echelons of prestige. Only a small percentage of students will have the type of profile to get into such a school. If this is you, you need to decide if it’s worth it for you to attend an elite institution. There is no doubt you will receive a top-notch education. The question you need to ask yourself is whether that is the best choice for your future plans.
It all goes back to your why. What’s your mission, and what type of job do you want to achieve after college? In some jobs, going to an elite institution will prove to be a very wise investment. In other professions, university prestige does little to advance your career. These are the types of issues you need to consider when deciding if an elite institution is the right place for you. The reality is, it’s not always worth it to attend one of these top schools.
Elite institutions have been accused of not actually making students great. On the contrary, they have a reputation for cherry-picking students. Some argue these schools are great recruiters of students who have all the skills it takes to perform at a high level after college—meaning, those students would have done just fine with a lower-level college degree.
Malcolm Gladwell has spent the last decade examining research on students entering elite institutions. It’s been his on-again-off-again hobby, it seems. He highlights that individuals who were accepted into elite institutions but chose not to go often perform just as well on a variety of post-college outcomes as those who went to the elite university. He went on to argue in his book David and Goliath that if you are on the margin, or if you just barely can make it into an elite school and would be at the bottom of your class once you arrive, it would actually be better for you to go to a lesser school. He argues that there is a lot of value in being a big fish in a small pond.
Ben here. I think I would have thrived being a big fish in a small pond. As I mentioned earlier, I applied to all the elite institutions because I knew being accepted would provide the validation I craved. I was accepted to New York University, where we’re sometimes called the Harvard on the Hudson. The joke is that only people who went to NYU refer to NYU as the Harvard on the Hudson. It was an incredible school, I had an amazing experience, and I made relationships that I still value to this day.
However, I didn’t go into that decision fully aware of what I was trying to accomplish. There were two things I didn’t pay enough attention to when picking my college: community and coursework. As far as the community goes, the school couldn’t have been more urban. There was no actual campus, only a network of buildings all over New York City. I had to take the subway to get to some of my classes! Further, the dorms were so expensive I lived in an apartment the first year with a high school friend who was also going to school in New York City. In a school of over 20,000 students, I felt extremely isolated. I was set adrift in this new experience after moving across the country, and it was difficult at times. Once I found my people on campus, I was set. This is true no matter where you go to school—the quicker you find a new community to experience school with, the more likely you are to be successful. And let me tell you something, these new friends might not just walk into your life. This takes work, and it can be hard to really put yourself out there and meet new people, but the benefit is a much richer college experience.
I say I didn’t pay enough attention to coursework because I didn’t know what major to work toward. I had been so focused on getting into a school like NYU that I hadn’t thought of what to study once I got there. And once I was there, I realized exactly how much I would be spending. Therefore, I didn’t choose a major so much based on practicality but on what would get me through the quickest, so I could reduce the cost my parents would have to pay for college. This worked for me because the school I was accepted to at NYU allowed me to create my own major from all the courses NYU offered. Looking back on this experience, I recognize it was perfect for my situation, and I’m not only grateful to NYU but also incredibly proud of the degree I earned.
Reading this section, you might assume we’re telling you that elite institutions don’t have value. Of course they do, it’s just a question of whether they have value for your particular situation and post-college goals. If you would like to be a politician, corporate lawyer, Wall Street broker, or a host of other such jobs, having an elite institution stamped on your diploma helps get you in the club. If you want to surround yourself with people who are brilliant and highly motivated, an elite institution is a great place, but don’t think those same people can’t be found at every type of school.
So, if you’ve set your sights on an elite institution, take your time, analyze your reasons, and be sure it’s truly the best choice for your college and career goals.