How Do I Know What College is Right for Me?

Finding the right college is about finding the right fit. This requires you to take the time to reflect on what you want and need from a school. We always tell our students to consider whether the college is a social, academic, financial, and emotional fit. So, when looking at schools, ask yourself, “Is this a SAFE match for me?” Below is a breakdown of the SAFE factors to help you in your decision-making.

The SAFE College Fit Test

Academic Fit

The easiest place to start may be academic fit because when you think about college, you tend to think about majors or areas of study. But with 80% of undergraduates changing their major at least once, it’s less about finding the one perfect major and more about identifying a few majors or areas of study that spark your curiosity. Don’t worry, it’s okay to be undecided and to start more broadly. College is a time for exploration and growth and most colleges don’t require students to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year. So, when you start zeroing in on the right academic fit, start thinking about which classes you excel in. Which classes do you really enjoy? Can you identify any overlaps? Think about how you like to show up in class. Do you enjoy listening to lectures and taking notes, or do you prefer to raise your hand and actively engage in the discussion? Are you excited to complete group projects, or do you prefer to work independently? Being honest with yourself about what and how you want to learn will help you refine your search for the right academic fits. Keep in mind there is no wrong or right answer, just what works best for YOU.

Financial Fit

Too often students and families don’t start to think about financial fit until after the student has applied and been accepted to their colleges. Some families adopt a “we’ll figure it out” mindset, only to discover it’s easier said than done. Get a jump start on understanding financial fit by using the College Board’s Net Price Calculator, click here. Once completed, it provides you with a good Student Aid Index estimate that can be used to evaluate what you’re expected to pay, what you think you can afford to pay, and what you’re willing to pay. You can then use these estimates to determine whether the college’s net price is within your family’s reach. This is a great first step in understanding which school is right for you financially.

Social and Emotional Fit

The transition to college is significant in many ways. One is the amount of unstructured free time you will have. In high school, students sit in class for approximately 35 hours per week, exclusive of clubs and other after-school activities. The average first-year college student sits in class for about 12-16 hours per week – less than half the time they did in high school! For this reason, it’s important to find a college that also offers you the social outlets you want and need. Sports, clubs, and professional and social groups will all help you find your individual “tribes”. Spend time thinking about the interests you want to continue or explore and the types of people you want to be surrounded by. Afterall, these classmates and peers will play an important part in helping you grow as a person into your future.

You should also consider the size and location of the college. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable in the city, town, or suburb where the school is located, it may be difficult to thrive. You need to ask yourself whether you prefer a small contained campus, a large sprawling one, or something in between. Reflect on whether you want to be in a city or near one. Do you want to go home to your family every weekend or stay on campus with your new “family” and friends? Identifying your best fit colleges based on social and emotional needs should not be discounted.

Knowing which colleges are right for you takes time. It requires you to look inward and decide what you need and want from the school. If you start by focusing on academic, financial, and social and emotional fit, you’ll be better prepared to navigate your unique college admissions journey and find your own SAFE match.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at or by phone, 845.551.6946.