Finding the right set of colleges that fit you socially, academically, financially and emotionally is the foundation of your entire college admissions journey and what will prove to be the single most important factor in your success in college. Giving it its due diligence is paramount. So, where do you begin to search for that list of colleges to explore? The first thing you need to do in finding the colleges that best fit YOU is do some soul searching on what is important to you.
Here is a list of questions you should ask yourself.
Questions to Help You Identify the Schools that Fit You Best
1. What size classes will you feel comfortable in to learn?
Can you envision yourself in a lecture hall with 600 students where you are pressing a remote to provide your answers to the professor, or is a smaller, more intimate environment where you can engage with your peers and the professor more of what you are looking for? Certainly know that even at the largest schools, your general education classes may be this large, but as you begin to take courses in your major, more toward your junior year, the class sizes will be greatly reduced. What you need to understand is is it optimal for you to attend courses that are this size.
2. Do you enjoy interacting with your professors and fellow students? Do you tend to learn best when you do?
3. What kind of environment do you enjoy?
Are you looking for an academic and scholarly environment where students focus predominantly on academics and are working on their studies most of the time? Do you prefer a more balanced environment where there is time to participate in organizations or athletics that you enjoy?
4. What are your academic interests and strengths?
Do you do well at math, science or are your favorite subjects history and English? Are you passionate about politics, international relations, do you want to be an entrepreneur? Or, more likely, at the age of 16 or 17, do you not have any idea what you want to major in or what career you are steering towards? This is perfectly OK and most students, whether they know it or not, find themselves in this position. After all, with as little experience as you have had in your life to date, there is a world out there to explore, of which college will allow you to do this. Do you need a school that has a specific major or is a wider breadth of majors offered more what you are looking for?
5. What are your religious beliefs and is it important to you that you attend a college with students who share these beliefs?
6. THIS ONE IS CRITICAL! What are your and your family’s financial boundaries, your financial aid position?
Will you qualify for financial aid and, if so, how much? Calculate your Expected Family Contribution – You can use bigfuture.org to do so. If you are needing or wanting to receive merit funding (based on your credentials – what you bring to the table) you need to look at your credentials as they relate to the schools to which you are applying. If you will be at the bottom end of the applicant pool, the likelihood is that receiving merit funding is slim to none. Do the schools you are looking to apply to even offer merit funds? The last thing you want is to get accepted to a college that you can’t afford and therefore can’t attend.
7. What kind of characteristics of the student body at a college appeal to you?
Every school has its own personality and matching it to yours is very important. Do you prefer a more liberal environment or is a conservative student body more your speed? Is attending athletic events that are a focus at the school important to you? Would you like a diverse student body? Would you like to be around highly motivated individuals, possibly people who love the outdoors and go hiking and skiing? Do you want a more unconventional student body or possibly one that is politically active?Is Greek life important to you? Would you like most students to remain on campus or will you be going home on the weekends?
8. What type of campus location do you prefer?
Would you thrive in a bustling city or is a more rural, small town your speed? Maybe you want access to a city but don’t want to be in the middle of one where the campus is part of the city?
Do you want a town that is accessible from the campus?
9. Do you want to participate in collegiate athletics?
If so, where does your athletic ability compare to the colleges you are looking at? Do you want to attend a large DI university, but your ability is better matched for a smaller DIII school? Are you OK with participating on a club or intramural team?
10. In what geographical region do you want to go to college?
Do you want to be within driving distance from home? Can you be anywhere in the country? Have you been interested in going south, to the warmer weather or is the midwest something you have set your sites on?
These are all things to give plenty of thought to in order to best understand what is important to you when selecting a college. Enlist your parents, since they probably know you better than you think, and discuss all of these touch points with them as they relate to you. Come up with your list and then begin a search to find colleges that best fit you and your needs. Some of these items will be more important than others. There are search tools that you can access, such as Big Big Future, CollegeData and Naviance,, which have a search feature as well. Keep in mind that these are just computers and will list a number of schools that depict a variety of different types of environments. It will be up to you to do your research to sift out those that will not work for you. To help you in this search, read our blog How to Research for Colleges Online. Once you have your initial list of about 10 – 15 schools, and when time and the environment allows, begin to visit colleges in person. Attend a school’s information session, take their campus tour, ask questions, and take notes since you have to look deeper than the beautiful buildings and well-landscaped grounds.
Please know that finding the best college for you is not something that is done in a day. The college search process is a journey. This takes time. Start early, set aside time each week to work on this. This could be the most important decision you and your family make to date in your life and could impact you for years to come.
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