Take the “good” out

If you were to strike the word “good” from your vocabulary, your evaluation of colleges would be a lot more precise. And a lot more honest.

It’s a good college.

They have good professors.

It’s got a good pre-med program.

Take out the “good” and start over. Now what are you going to say?

Don’t cheat and use “amazing” or something else positive but completely nondescript. The idea here is to be precise.

Maybe your answer is, “It’s a famous college.” Maybe it’s, “It’s a college with the major I want, it feels like the right size for me, and it gave me a financial aid package that made it affordable for my family.” Both those answers are more accurate and more honest than “good.”

They have professors who teach instead of research.

They have several professors who’ve won the Nobel Prize.

They have professors in the economics department who regularly depart campus to advise on national economic policy in Washington D.C.

You’ll put your knowledge—and the strength of the professors—to the test when you go further than “good”:

70% of their students who apply to medical school get accepted.

It’s got special study abroad programs just for pre-meds so they don’t fall behind in their science studies.

It has a full-time health careers advisor, six professors students can go to for pre-med advice, and a list of former students who’ve gone to medical school and are willing to speak with undergraduates about their experiences.

Who’s more likely to know exactly what to expect from their future pre-med program—the student who stopped at “good,” or the student who dug deeper and replaced “good” with some real facts?

No college can guarantee you a successful outcome. You’re not shopping for a car you can research on Consumer Reports or experience for yourself with a lengthy test drive. You’re shopping for a four-year experience predicated in large part on your willingness to make the most of what’s available to you while you’re there. Part of being comfortable with your college list means accepting a certain amount of uncertainty. That’s why when so many people refer to a “good” college, what they really mean is a “famous” college. Famous is an easy shortcut to what you think must be “good” when you don’t know what else to base that choice on.

But the best way to improve your odds of turning that uncertainty into a four-year record of learning, growth and fun is to match the student with the right colleges. And to do that, you’ll have to consider those things that you can be certain about. Don’t accept reputations, rankings, or prestige as proxies for quality. Dig deeper into the offerings. Crash them against what you hope or expect to gain from your college experience. Seek advice from people who know you well and want the best for you. Then make your choices confidently knowing that you sought clarity where it existed and accepted uncertainty when it did not.

The parts of any college that deserve to be described as “good” will be much clearer once you take the “good” out.