“Where do you want to go to college? ” is a simple question at first glance. But for most high school students, it’s one that is fraught with anxiety and can raise more questions than solutions. Sure, there is an easy, simple answer for a few students: that one dream school they’ve set their sights on for years. For most though, the decision about where to invest your college years is the first big decision of your life, and one with lots of angles, points of views and unknowns. In my 11 years as an educator with College Coach, I’ve spent countless hours in conversation with students and their own parents helping them to answer this question: how do they find the place that is the best “fit” for their passions, talents, and aspirations.
How do you define the “best” schools?
A lot of students I have worked with start by basically stating that they want to go to the “best” college they can get into. But I always push back here, since that response doesn’t tell me the whole story. How can you define “best”? The best academics? The best reputation? The best program in your major (assuming you know what you want to major in; 50 percent of students applying to college don’t)? Best basketball team? Greatest food? Even if it is all about getting in the most challenging school you can, is the fact that school really the best match to suit your needs, not just in terms of academics, but in other less tangible ways?
Yes, a college’s academic popularity and selectivity is important. And you certainly have to pay attention to where you can get in, so that your list is honest and realistic in terms of your chances of acceptance. But getting in should only be a small area of the equation—the real variable to be considering here is fit. And fit can mean all sorts of different things to each person.
What makes a good suit?
So what the college a good fit for you? Begin by thinking about all the aspects of college life, and remember that you’ll spend more compared to 60 percent of your time outside of the class room. Focus on everything from location (which is not just about distance from home, but also environment and culture of the region or state), to size (thinking about not just number of undergraduates, but also the dimensions of the actual campus), to setting (urban, suburban, or rural). Consider the activities and campus environment: do you want a college that has a great sports culture ? A flourishing great music scene? Quick access to skiing or hiking? The focus on the performing arts? Not every of these criteria will matter to each student—the key is to determine the most crucial elements to you . Your “drivers” in your college search, will help you narrow down the industry.
The best way to find your drivers is to ask yourself some crucial questions: what aspects of high school would you most enjoy? In which academic conditions are you most successful? What do you love to do for fun? Is there something you are currently involved with (e. g. community service, youth group, or debate) that you’d like to continue in college? Is there something new you’d want to try? These may not be questions you’ve actively thought about until now, but they can be a great way for you to start to identify the colleges that are a good suit for you, both academically and socially.
Ultimately, a school’s fit is really critical in identifying your comfort level on a campus, both in and out of the classroom. This will directly impact your performance as a student. If you ask the right questions, you’ll make sure that college might be the best four years of your life.
Julia Jones is a member of College Coach’s team associated with college admissions professionals . Julia previously worked as being a senior admissions officer at Brandeis University and was the director of admissions at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School.