What Is Your Best Fit College: How to Find the Right College for You
Sometimes The College Search Can Feel Impersonal, Almost Like A Cookie-Cutter Experience...
This problem is fairly common, because you are a unique individual with specific interests and goals, not a clone of every other student applying for college. You can’t approach every college the same way; in the same way that you’re unique, so is every college out there.
Each college has their own personality.
This is defined by their values, standards, campus life, and activities they offer. It all comes together into what makes them so special.
Have faith that somewhere out there is a college that is a perfect fit for you, whether that be a public, private, or liberal arts school. You can find your niche, and this article is going to help you through the murky waters of finding your best college match.
What You’ll Find In This Article:
- Handling the College Search
- What to Look for During Your College Search
- How to Make Your Final Choice
- What College is the Best Fit for Me?
Handling The College Search
There are 5,300 colleges in the United States. That’s a large number to choose from, especially if you have no idea where you want to go. Whether you’ve known where you’ve wanted to go to college since you were a kid, or you still have no idea where to start, beginning with a blank slate isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it could be fantastic!
Before college, everyone is still learning a lot about themselves: what they like, what they don’t like, and what they’re passionate about. The search for the right college for you can actually help you in this process of figuring yourself out.
This is why, when you begin researching schools, it’s important that you keep an open mind.
Don’t just make a list of the first schools you come across for arbitrary reasons. You want to have substantial reasons for why you apply to the colleges you apply to.
It’s no secret that this makes the college search stressful. The amount of options you have can make you feel overwhelmed, or even worse, paranoid that you’re missing something. Don’t panic. It’s stressful for everyone, and there are thousands of other high school students who are just as stressed out as you are.
However, before we learn how to remedy this anxiety, it’s important that you nail down why you’re going to college and what an ideal academic environment would be for you.
This part of the college search takes some self-awareness and a little bit of soul-searching. Do you have any long-term goals? Is there a certain field or craft that you’ve always pictured yourself in? What about the campus? Where would you like to spend four years of your life?
You need to make sure that where you go to college is a place that you’ll actually enjoy spending time at. If you don’t like the city, don’t apply to city colleges like NYU or Columbia. If you like wide open spaces and large crowds, you might thrive at a large public university.
This is why it’s so important to start with yourself. When you start with who you are and what you want to accomplish, the college search process will become so much easier (and perhaps a little bit more fun)!
What To Look For During Your College Search
When you begin looking for your college match, hopefully you’ll have already made a few notes about yourself. These don’t have to be elaborate; just be honest about who you are. Make it simple like, “I want to live in a city,” or “I want plenty of opportunities for study abroad.” You may also have more crucial factors on your list, like “I need as much financial aid as I can get.”
Small insights like these can go a long way in narrowing down your college search..
Of course, if you still have no idea where to start, check out a college search tool. Once you’ve decided what factors are most important to you, these search engines can filter colleges by your preferences.
College is filled with so many factors like location, demographics, and opportunities, so there’s a lot to consider. However, there are five areas you’ll want to focus on the most when narrowing down your college search.
When looking at the right college for you, you’ll have to be brutally honest with yourself about your academic level. For the most part, being a straight-A student isn’t of first priority, unless you’re interested in attending an Ivy League school.
So, before you possibly overwhelm and confuse yourself, just be honest about where you are today. What is your GPA, average grades for classes, and work ethic? Do you enjoy your classwork, and in what subjects?
Then, start asking questions about your interests and academic level. Determine whether or not you would feel at home in a rigorous environment or somewhere that’s a little bit more laid back.
Note: If you want to apply to an Ivy League school, but your GPA and SAT scores aren’t up to par, there are plenty of methods to raise your scores in time for applying to college.
Ultimately, academics are the most important factor of the college search because that’s the core of your experience. If you can’t excel at a certain school because of their level of academics, you’re not going to be able to enjoy everything else the school has to offer. It’s important to keep in mind that one of the main reasons you’re going to college is to receive a higher education degree. Everything else is important, too, but it should come later on your list of priorities.
These are the first questions you’ll want to ask yourself when you’re researching colleges:
- Would this college accept me based on my GPA and SAT/ACT scores?
- Is this college rigorous or laid-back academically? Which one would fit better for me?
- Does this college have a good program for the area of study I’m interested in?
When you’re researching colleges, campus life is probably the second most important thing to consider after academics. After all, you’re not going to enjoy college if you were hoping to get involved with Greek Life, and the college you’re going to doesn’t have any Greek Life on campus!
Ask yourself what your interests are. Consider the clubs, organizations, and sports you were involved in during high school. This information could also help you down the road when you’re considering what you want to study.
Campus life has a lot of components: demographics, dorms, dining, and facilities like libraries and theaters.
Additionally, consider if you’d like to go to a college that has a strong sense of diversity. This school would typically be open to foreign exchange students and host events on campus that celebrates people from all walks of life. This school would carry a strong vibe of inclusion.
Next, think about whether you’d thrive in a large or small school. There are essentially three kinds of colleges to choose from, based on size: Ivy League, public universities, or liberal arts colleges. Deciding between these three options is a great way to start figuring out what size of school you would thrive at.
Other things to include in your thought process is how you like to spend your time, what activities excite you, any food preferences or allergies, and what kind of setting you’re drawn to.
Overall, start with your preferences when you think about the campus life of a certain college:
- Does this college offer extracurricular activities for something I’m interested in?
- Does it offer plenty of opportunities to try new things?
- Is diversity a factor for me?
- Would its dining plan cater to my dietary needs?
- Is it a large or small school? What about a rural or urban setting?
- Which one of these colleges could I see myself thriving in?
After you consider all the living qualities of a college, you’ll need to look at financial aid opportunities.
The first thing you’ll want to find out is the total cost of tuition. Your family or legal guardian may have a budget or plan in mind to pay for your college, so consult with them if you’re unsure about the price.
Fortunately, for students who can’t afford to pay their tuition, financial aid has become more widely available as tuition prices have risen. If you’re in this situation, figure out if this college offers merit-based scholarships or grants that you may qualify for. If you’re applying to a college in your state of residence, you’ll also likely get a significant discount on tuition.
Alongside tuition costs, look at the average cost of on-campus housing. If it’s expensive, consider how much it would cost to live off campus or if that is even allowed for freshmen. Also consider the cost of books, meal plans, and on-campus transportation if there is a bus system.
Many students panic when they get to this part of the college search. They hear stories of student loans, how difficult it is to get scholarships, and other financial woes.
For now, please don’t worry; you’re not alone in this.
Colleges need students. So, if their students can’t afford to go to their school anymore, they’re going to have financial aid available for you to try and help. While finances may be stressful, they shouldn’t hold you back from going to the right college.
When looking at college costs, consider:
- Do they offer financial aid? What kind?
- Are there any grants or merit-based scholarships that I’m eligible for?
- How much is tuition, housing, meal plans, and transportation? Are there any opportunities for financial aid in those areas?
- What are my chances for receiving financial aid?
After you consider academics, campus life, and financial aid, you’ll have to consider what you might like to study. This is the part where many students feel lost.
Maybe you know exactly what you want to study; if so, that’s great! However, it’s still a good idea to keep your mind open as you’re researching colleges. You may come across a major that you had no idea existed, but that you find perfectly fits with your dreams.
Don’t count out all the possibilities too early!
If you’re like the majority of students and have no idea what career you want to pursue, that is a great place to be. Starting with a blank slate is healthy, and will help you be absolutely sure about your career choice.
- Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?
- Does this college offer an area of study that you’re interested in?
- Does it offer opportunities for internships and apprenticeships in that field?
- Will this college help you segue into your career smoothly?
Remember when I said that each school has its own unique personality?
These qualities aren’t necessarily important academically or socially. They’re just specific factors about the college that will affect your experience there.
Every school has little unique quirks that may resonate with you. Just like you have a unique personality, there’s a school out there that’s a great fit for you. Take a college personality quiz to find schools that match your preferences.
Some of these little quirks might include its distance from where you live now or it’s study-abroad program if you’ve ever considered going to school overseas. Think about the weather you like. If you hate the snow, you might want to stay away from colleges in states like Michigan or Minnesota. Can you see yourself at a college that has beautiful museums and libraries or one where they have opportunities for outdoor adventure trips like hiking and white water rafting?
Believe it or not, a lot of colleges out there are known for their unique quirks. For instance, Bowdoin College in Maine is known for its “outing” club, where a large number of its students go hiking and camping. Now, Bowdoin is associated with a love for the outdoors. No matter what your interests are, there will be a college out there that caters to them!
Compile a list of all your interests that have nothing to do with academics or career, and then ask yourself:
- Do you want to study abroad or go to school in a foreign country?
- What kind of weather do you like?
- Do you like the outdoors or indoors?
- Are you artsy, bookish, athletic, or a city person? Or all four?
How To Make Your Final Choice
After organizing your thoughts with the questions above, you can start using your answers as a gauge for choosing colleges to apply to. Use your list like a reference sheet. If it doesn’t meet your needs and wants, then you shouldn’t apply.
Once you’ve compiled a list of colleges that you’re happy with, you’ll have to narrow it down. If you’ve made a list of more than 15-20 colleges, you’re definitely going to have to cut some out. This is when you should divide your initial list of schools into reach, safety, and target schools.
At the end of this process you should have a handful of colleges for each category. Reach schools are colleges that you’re less likely to get accepted to, safety schools are a back-up, and target schools are colleges that you have a reasonable chance of getting accepted to. From there, you should apply to anywhere between 6-10 colleges.
If you’re having trouble breaking it down, make a pros and cons list of each school until you get just a handful of schools to apply to. With this short list, you don’t risk becoming overwhelmed, and you can focus on making your applications the best they possibly can be.
Of course, you may think that this is the end, but don’t throw away your list just yet!
Once you start receiving acceptance letters, use your cheat sheet again to make a decision about where you’re going to spend the next four years. It will help you stay true to your initial decisions about what you want and where you could see yourself. You might have changed your mind over the course of a few months, but your thought process while you were researching for colleges was valid. Trust it.
What College Is The Best Fit For Me?
All questions and answers aside, the best college for you is the one where you’ll thrive the most. If you’re having trouble answering these questions, or you’re still unsure about where to start, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of WeAdmit’s college counselors.
We’re here to help you navigate the murky waters of finding the right college for you.
Before you embark on researching colleges, be honest with yourself. Write down some things that matter to you and reflect on your deepest values and goals for your life. You’ll thrive in an environment where the academics are challenging but not impossible. You’ll want to live on a campus that brings out the best in you and makes you feel comfortable being yourself and trying new things. And you don’t want to spend all your time worrying about how you’re going to pay tuition; you should have a financial aid plan that supports your needs.
Ultimately, the best college for you will be just as unique as you are. While it may take some time to find it, trust in the process above and seek out help when you need it. After all...
The Best College For You Is Out There. All You Have To Do Is Find It!
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