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Lakeridge senior Claire Petersen shares her thoughts on the importance of the college experience

PETERSENAs a high school senior, I am often asked, "Where do you want to go to college? What's your top choice?" When I respond, saying that I'm not sure, I get more questions like, "Oh come on, how about top three?" or "What do you want to study?" Some students have known since they were small they wanted to be a dentist, a biologist or a teacher. Others early on choose a school where a sibling or parent attended.

You often hear the advice that you will fall in love with the "right" school when you visit, somehow finding a magical perfect match when you step onto a certain college campus. Every time I visited a school, the students told me they chose it because they felt they belonged there. For me, almost all the universities I toured felt like a potential match. Students looked content at every campus, engaged in their classes, smiling and laughing with friends, and open to sharing about their experiences. I could see myself fitting in at each school.

I have visited some large campuses, and some smaller ones, and had different experiences at each. Small schools seem to offer great one-on-one faculty connections and a close community, but my concern is that will it feel too small after a year or two. Many larger schools at first seem overwhelming with choices in classes and activities, but on my visits, I found they tend to have first year programs where students are placed in smaller groups to connect early on with faculty and fellow students who share their academic interests.

One big factor in this decision-making process for most families is also the price tag. The weight of student loan debt can be crushing, not just while in school, but the pressure of paying it off afterwards. The exorbitant cost of college has to be considered when looking at the price of in-state versus private schools.

I don't see college as just a stepping stone to get a particular job. I know college is a place where I can experiment and be exposed to new fields of study. At one university, a faculty member I talked to in a hallway led me to a series of classroom workspaces, where students were presenting their midterm projects in architecture classes. What they were working on fascinated me, as I talked to the students and realized that I could see myself taking the course, and working in an area of study I previously thought was not a fit for me. As I work towards a decision of which college to attend, I know I will make the right choice. It's a short four years of my life, but an important time of change.

Lakeridge High School senior Claire Petersen is one of two Pacer Notes columnists. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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