Finding "The One"

How to navigate making one of the most important (and expensive) decisions of your life.

With Velcro shoes and black tube socks, Randy Franks was the Jim Halpert of the high school. Everybody liked him. He was the cut-up in the classroom and the comic relief at football practice. He was the backup quarterback, even though he had the arm of a rocket. Then he decided to go out for the baseball team. Within a year, he was offered a full ride to play ball at a couple different junior colleges. He worked out with a former Houston Astros pitcher, who personally recommended him to coaches at Big 12 schools. A showcase team out of Houston invited him to play with the guarantee of a personal tryout with his school of choice. Bottom line: Franks was golden. Who would have thought that one year of pitching could lead to a lifetime of reward?

Everyone was rooting for him. But he had other plans.

“I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars going all over the nation playing in front of college scouts,” he says. He turned down the showcase team, essentially kissing the baseball ticket goodbye.

Everybody wonders what they would’ve done differently, and Franks is no exception. “Sometimes I regret it. People told me I was good at baseball. I could have maybe gone somewhere with it ... maybe even after college, but at the same time, you have to stick with what you’re good at. I’ve worked so hard my entire life at school and not baseball. I figured I owe my time to my education, not baseball.”

Franks was looking to get more than a uniform from a college, so he began the search taken on by thousands of seniors every year. And like many seniors, he wondered, “Where do you even begin?”

Making the Right Decision

Hordes of graduating seniors have to decide where to spend the next four years of their lives. Some have to decide between scholarship and passion, living at home or crossing state lines. Others have to pick a side in a family rivalry, and some have to blaze a trail yet to be conquered by anyone else in the family.

“The right choice is typically a personal listing of the needs you desire in the educational experience you are embarking on,” says Dave Voskuil, the vice president of Enrollment Management at McMurry University in Texas. “This is a family discussion and soul search—but needs to be honest, not peer-driven or tainted.”

Making a good decision takes time and some basic knowledge of your options. Make a checklist of what you are looking for in a college. Consider what you want in the classroom, what type of campus life appeals to you, what city or state you want to live in, how much you want to pay, and other variables that matter to you, such as travel-abroad options, sports opportunities and so on. If list-making is not your forte,check out CollegeBoard.com for a pre-made list. Establish the areas where you can be flexible (mascots and school colors should fall under this category) and which criteria is set in stone (degree programs belong here). Now, research. Talk to current students and professors at the school—not via text messaging or email, but in actual conversations.

Unfortunately, this checklist doesn’t have unseen powers. It is by no means a machine that scans your wish list and pops out a T-shirt bearing the letters of your perfect school. If it were that easy, more than 11,000 admission advisors would be out of a job. And with the help they can offer, you want them to keep their jobs.

“Advisors are the gateway to financial aid, faculty, housing, visitations, alumni and current students—which are all important areas to consider when making a good decision,” Voskuil says.

Best of Both Worlds?

After you’ve made the list, visited the campuses and weighed the outcomes,there may be more than one right answer. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Look on the bright side: It leaves less room for error.

When it comes to decision time, make sure you’re choosing a school that’s best for you—not just a school your friends will be attending. “It’s important to have friends, but you don’t want to follow people around your entire life,” Franks says. “Sometimes you have to be bold, make a decision, get away and be on your own. If you’ve narrowed it down to a couple choices, just go where your heart takes you. You are bound to enjoy it ... after all, you’ve already eliminated the schools you didn’t want to go to.”

Making your own decisions about college can be scary—especially when you have so many. Jodi Hicks experienced that stress while looking for a school with a notable nursing program. Her top choice was the University of Texas, home of a nationally ranked nursing school. But another possibility was Lon Morris College, a much smaller, two-year school. She was accepted to both.

“It was stressful picking a college. I just kept second-guessing myself,” Hicks says. Her final decision was to attend Lon Morris, where she was offered a dance scholarship that would save her parents a good chunk of money. “I wanted to take the risk. I wanted to succeed outside of my comfort zone, and I felt that Lon Morris would help me grow in my faith.”

Then, after two years at LMC, Hicks went on to study physical therapy at the University of Texas. Even if you go with one school, you can always pursue further education at your second choice.

The Bigger Picture

The truth is, college is only (hopefully) four years out of the average life span of 75. It’s not where you go but what you do and who you become that will make the biggest impact on your life and the lives of those around you. You might be the only clunker in a parking lot lined with Mercedes, or you might be the ninth-generation student body president. But, as the saying goes, God will use you regardless of what letters are plastered across your car bumper ... or something like that.

It may seem like it now, but college is not the end-all, be-all. In fact, college is only the beginning of the rest of your life. Have faith that no matter which school you attend, you are a part of something much bigger. God has you where He wants you. God sent Jonah to Nineveh not just to share the prophetic Gospel with the ignorant but to grow Jonah and awaken his heart.

“Learn from being stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Voskuil says. “Avoid emotion and peer pressure in making the decision. Rely more on facts and research, communication and discussion. Let the glee and emotion be part of making a good decision.”

As for Franks, somewhere between the tumbleweeds of West Texas and the Bobby Knight bobbleheads, he found what he was looking for in Texas Tech University: a big school with a small-town feel. But most importantly, it has a nationally and internationally prominent civil and environmental engineering program, Franks’ chosen major.

It’s important to know what you are good at, but at the same time, it’s important to know what will make you grow and mature as a person.

“Something just clicked when I was there,” Franks says. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m sure I could have gone a lot of places, but I’m so happy here, I don’t ever really think about being anywhere else.” And after watching the College World Series, he has started pitching again and hopes to join the Texas Tech baseball team.

Just goes to show you can wear your tube socks and pitch for the baseball team, too.

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