How to Find "Good Fit" Colleges

July 8, 2013, 1:25pm, Topics: college fit, location, academics, campus, college experience, college choice

With thousands of colleges and universities in the United States, it is no wonder that students are confused and stressed when it comes to applying to colleges. Often they end up only applying to schools they've heard of from parents, friends or the colleges regularly mentioned in the media. Unfortunately, this type of college search may not yield the best opportunities for the student to really flourish in an academic environment that nurtures their particular needs. Finding colleges that are a better fit will take a bit of self-reflection and some research but the results will be worth the effort.

Some key aspects that students should focus on when thinking about what they want in a college experience are:

Location – Not just how far from home do you want to be but also think about climate and geography. Do you get depressed when it rains? Well that may make it hard to get out of bed and get to class in places where it rains a lot. Do you want to take all day and several airplanes to fly to school or prefer one short plane or car ride away? Do you prefer the hustle of a big city or the quieter pace of a small town? College is not only about what happens in the classroom, but also those other 18-20 hours a day you are living there, so make sure it is in an environment you will enjoy.

Academics – Most students who have a chosen major going into college end up changing it at least once before graduation. Focusing on colleges that offer multiple options in areas of your academic interest rather than looking only at colleges that have a very specific major will give you more flexibility. Many colleges also let you self-design a major, so if the specific title isn't in the list of majors, it still may be possible to create that major if the curriculum is available to support it. Besides the major, you should also consider the academic rigor of the college. How hard do you want to work in college, knowing that a lot of the college experience comes outside the classroom through various clubs and activities (which can also be major-related)? Do you want an environment where you are always competing against your peers for grades or one where you work together as colleagues to achieve the same goals?

Campus – The size of the campus affects the academic experience. Do you want to be one of 30,000 or in a community of only a couple thousand? Do you prefer small classes that are discussion based or like the anonymity of a large lecture hall? The bigger universities can offer more diversity of classes, extracurricular activities and students. However on the downside you might not have a chance to get to know as many professors as well, may have more teaching assistants teaching classes and more competition for opportunities like classes, activities, research and internships. While smaller colleges may not have the enormous selection of classes and activities, they often have more opportunities to develop closer relationships with faculty, staff and other students. Which size campus do you feel like you can best navigate and will give you the opportunities you want from your college experience?

Social Life – What kind of activities do you want to be involved in outside the classroom? Like to watch (or play) big time athletics? Is a vibrant art scene important? What about Greek life, non-traditional living options or a single-sex campus? Living on campus is highly recommended so that you can get connected and be more successful. Does the college offer campus activities that seem interesting to you? College campuses have personalities just like people so investigating the campus vibe is important too.

Once you have spent some time reflecting on what matters to you in a college experience there are many great online resources that can help you find colleges that are a good match for what you are looking for in a college experience.