I was accepted into the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, and I was accepted into the Mays School of Business at Texas A&M University, and I was torn between the two. Deciding between UT vs. A&M isn't something I was about to take lightly. Sure, you could say "either place will be great," but the thing is, picking a college is one of the most impacting life decisions I will ever make. I put a lot of thought into it, and if you also happen to be stuck deciding between these two universities, who knows, maybe my thoughts will help you.
Spoiler Alert comes now: I decided on A&M. Two days ago, I committed. This decision was (and still is) shocking to a lot of my UT friends especially, so I figured I should write out my reasons before I forget them.
When deciding between these schools, I wanted to avoid a couple traps. There are always wrong reasons to do something, including going to a particular college. For A&M, some bad reasons to go there were : (1) Because it's comfortable and convenient, (2) Because I have friends going there, and (3) Simply to spite UT. For UT, the bad reasons to go there were: (1) To break away from friends / start life over, (2) Just because I got in, (3) To feel superior to everyone else, and (4) To party. Whether it was consciously or subconsciously, I really didn't want these reasons to factor into my decision, as they didn’t seem to show much wisdom. That said, allow me to go into what actually WERE the factors in my decision.
A&M Offers The Best Atmosphere For My Personal Growth
In other words, it was the better cultural fit. The truth of the matter is, whether I like it or not, I naturally relate more to any given Aggie than I do to any given Longhorn. I understand that both are big schools, and that every sort of person will be at either school. However, that doesn't change the reality of each school's general environment.
A&M is a tight community. Aggies are extremely friendly, family-oriented, more closely aligned with the Judeo-Christian values our country was founded upon, and prioritize school spirit and tradition. And since the average Aggie is more similar to me, peer pressure to do things I don't want to do or be someone I'm not is less at A&M compared to UT. UT's culture is more free-flowing. People there are discovering themselves, being open minded to new ideas, independently thinking about issues and not simply accepting whatever their parents said (and there's a lot of good to this, tbh). Longhorns are definitely more ethnically diverse (which is awesome), but they also strike me on the whole as a bit prideful, a bit anti-establishment to an unhealthy degree, and a bit more into the party scene.
For me, the draw to the UT atmosphere is that I would be going against the grain of it. Being someone who is deeply rooted in what I believe and not interested in a party lifestyle, UT for me would be more of a mission field than anything else. Now, this one observation nearly convinced me to pack up for Austin. But when I really thought about it, expecting to go against the grain for four straight years in hopes of having a substantial impact is not realistic. For one year, maybe. As a post-grad who is more strengthened and solidified in who I am, maybe. But if I spent my college years being a Longhorn, the harsh reality is that I would be the one who is influenced and changed, not the one changing the culture of UT. The culture is already centuries old and hundreds of thousands of people strong, after all.
A&M Is A More Desirable Community
Allow me to paint two very contrasting pictures that characterize the types of communities UT and A&M possess.
From my own observation, Longhorns tend to act like a school's academic ranking is the only criteria for a good school (I guess because they have a higher ranking than A&M), and consequently, many live with the assumption that every Texan that doesn't go to UT must not have gotten in. Let me give a couple examples of what I mean:
I remember when I visited UT, I met with a couple different current students to get a better understanding of the school and ask for their input in helping me make a college decision. One Longhorn, after pausing to think, said, “Unless you’re wanting to do the Corps of Cadets or go into the military, I can’t think of one good reason why you would go to A&M over UT. There’s not a single aspect of A&M that’s superior to UT. We’re better across the board, no matter what angle you look at it.” I remember another was taken aback when I asked him how he felt like the culture at UT compared to that at A&M, responding, “Well, I haven’t thought about that before. I’ve never considered choosing a college for any reason other than academics. That’s what you’re going there to do, after all.”
Fair point. Receiving an education is what I’m going to college to do - but it’s not all I’m going to college to do.
It seems to me that Longhorns are told that they go to the best school and are the best-prepared students, and in my opinion, this can have a negative impact on their character, work ethic, and view of others. When I told a Longhorn that I got into McCombs, they replied, "Congratulations, that's a major accomplishment! You CANNOT pass up this opportunity!!!!" When I told an Aggie that I got into A&M, they said, "Congratulations! Welcome to the Aggie Family!!!" Which sounds nicer to you?
Another note on the people behind the programs. Seemingly every pro-UT person I interacted with - the administration, the students, the alumni - stressed individuality. They promoted being set apart, being the best, being more special than the competition. Those that represent the Business School insisted that McCombs is on a different playing field than even the rest of UT. Compare this to A&M, where the emphasis is not on individuality, but community. Aggies promote humility, being a part of something bigger than yourself, and joining the family - the 12th Man, the Big Event, the Class Ring, the Aggie Network. A Mays Business spokesman may highlight the School's accomplishments, but the overall portrait is that Mays is merely a section of the vast A&M opportunity. Those are the kind of people I want to surround myself with.
The Aggie Network Is Real, Especially In Texas
(and I intend to work & live in Texas after college)
I don't know if there is anything I could say to make this as evident as it truly should be. I have had multiple Aggie employers tell me already that they will be pursuing me in 5 years when I graduate, two of these employers being recruiters for Big Four public accounting firms (that's the best of the best, right there). I have had several other Aggies tell me sincerely that if I ever need anything at all, to let them know and that they will work something out for me. I have had still several other Aggies grant me opportunities solely based on the fact that I am going to A&M. When I walk around a public place sporting A&M gear, it’s common for it to spark a conversation with an Aggie Alum. My father actually got his current job through an Aggie who barely knew an Aggie who fairly knew an Aggie who was hiring for the position. The result? My dad got the job without even submitting a resume.
The point is, Aggies are genuinely interested in other Aggies, on both a professional and personal level. Aggies stick up for one another and place value in their community. You'd think with an alumni base similar in size to UT's, that the Aggie Network would be comparable to the Network of Longhorns. But it's not - it's way better. While Aggies stand up for each other, Longhorns tend to just pat each other on the back. Because they believe that they are the best candidates, they feel less of a need to defend each other. Of course, if you do well at UT, you won't have trouble getting a job, but if you don't do well, nobody is going to fight for you. A&M is a different scenario.
A&M Takes Care Of The Little Things, Too
Money. It is way less expensive to live in College Station than Austin: Any given item is sold cheaper in College Station than Austin, traffic / driving is less, there are more things to do in Austin that cost money (i.e. the difference in nightlife), and even laundry just so happens to be free at A&M and not at UT.
Athletics. College Station revolves around A&M sports, the fan base is more dedicated, the yell leader/crowd chant situation is really awesome, and the SEC is definitely more exciting than the Big 12 lol. UT Athletics are only good if they're winning, which they don't seem to do as well at these days.
Food. A&M's meal plan kicks the UT meal plan's butt, and the food options are better/tastier too. I can get 19 all-you-can eat meals every week at A&M; at UT there is only one meal plan offered required: $1700 food credit to spend on an expensive pay-per-item basis (and apparently no one lasts the whole year before they need to deposit more cash into their food account).
Housing. This one isn't totally UT's fault; part of the reason I'd get stuck with a bad situation at UT is because I would be applying for a dorm so late in the year. That said, at A&M I already have a roommate who I know and who can provide some sweet appliances, a spacious modular dorm (which has a personal bathroom that is cleaned for us every week), and a house that I would get to live in by myself sophomore through senior year (used to be my grandpa's house, but he passed away earlier this year).
Driving. A&M is closer to home (Houston), which I like. A&M doesn’t have a crazy over-crowded freeway system, making the experience of driving much more enjoyable and doable. Parking is available anywhere and everywhere you could want to go in Bryan-College Station - not so in Austin. And, because of these three truths, there’s a much greater chance my parents allow me to take a car with me to college should I attend A&M.
A Couple Popular Pro-UT Arguments Are Not True
Misconception #1: UT is on a completely different academic playing field than A&M. I really don't even want to spend much time refuting this; it is plainly an ignorant statement. Yes, UT is ranked higher as an overall university, business school, and specifically in the accounting major, but this doesn't mean A&M is incredibly far behind. In fact, based on composite rankings in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Financial Times, Forbes, and U.S. News & World Report, the quality of Mays School of Business is only 3 spots behind McCombs (22 versus 19).
To please the Longhorns, I will concede that an average UT businessman may be more intellectually prepared for a job on his first day than an average A&M businessman. However, it's not like Aggies don't know anything, and we all know that any good job will be one that requires significant learning on the go anyway. No employer is banking on what you already know, they're banking on your ability to learn - and to work. And let's please try not to forget about that infamous Aggie Network and its ability to get a guy a job in the first place.
Additionally, I could just as fairly argue that A&M businessmen are more mentally prepared for a job on their first day than UT businessmen, since UT graduates may not used to being "on the same level" as those from “lesser” schools. Once you hit the job market, you are a candidate just like anyone else, and once you land a job, you are an employee just like anyone else. Aggies are typically more mentally prepared for this type of grunt work occupation, because they don't graduate with the same sense of self-prestige that Longhorns do.
Misconception #2: College Station is just too boring to go to school there. As my mom always told me when I was a kid: "if you're bored, you're boring." Yes, Austin is a more lively as a city than College Station. But A&M has a larger student body, and 60,000+ college kids don't sit around and do nothing, no matter where they are. I won't be bored in College Station. Honestly, the lesser 'night life' in College Station forces more student involvement, especially centered around joining organizations, sporting events, and building real friendships that last (all much better than attending a concert imo). Besides, nothing is keeping me from road tripping up to Austin (or Houston & Dallas, for that matter) and taking in the city life in doses.
P.S. - Hindsight Is 20/20
For what it's worth, having looked back at this writing a handful of times since originally making this decision in the spring of 2012, I couldn't be happier with deciding to go to A&M. Surely, we have our weaknesses. Sometimes we can embrace ‘normal’ to a fault. There are fears that our increasing student body will dilute the quality and rigor of our academics. There are approximately 5 major construction projects going on simultaneously, at all times. And yet, strengths and weaknesses be what they may, I cannot express how thankful I am that I chose to go to a school like A&M, with a student body that encourages strong community and spiritual growth. The man I am today is leagues and leagues above the man I was fall of my freshman year. I’m better in every way, though of course much of my growth is still ahead of me. It’s impossible for me to overstate the impact A&M and its people have had on my life, and if I were you, I’d give this serious consideration.
See, learning is a quest that will continue for the rest of your life, and the opportunity to grow your knowledge base is ever-present. Becoming is a lifelong journey, too, but your college days are by far the most formative years you have left. We can’t “catch up” on this one. And we can’t “undo” it, either. Who you become in your college years will be the foundation that sets the course of the rest of your life. And at the end of the day, in the big picture, you don't change the culture of your college; the culture of your college changes you - with immeasurable ramifications. For me, that made my college choice easy.
Are you thinking about going to college in Texas? What factors are most important to you in your college decision?
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