There’s a lot of talk about college fit and finding the right college. But how do you sift through all of the suggestions you receive and the overload of information on the internet and elsewhere to find a group of schools that are a “good fit” for you? And why is it important to think about fit at all?
A college that’s a good fit is a good match with your needs, priorities, and interests. Why is this important? From a personal development perspective, considering fit will help you learn more about yourself and the kind of environment in which you learn best. College will be your home for four years, so it’s important to really understand the characteristics that suit you best, and know how to find the schools that have them.
Practically speaking, if you don’t think about fit going into the application process, your college list may not yield schools where you’ll be happiest and most successful.
Finding the right college fit may seem like a daunting task, but really all it takes is dedicating some time to researching yourself, and researching colleges.
Researching yourself. This isn’t so easy to do because there are no guidebooks or rankings for your values, learning style, and social style. However, you can do some self-reflection in several ways. Start with a typical day at school. Who are your friends? How are you in the classroom? What do you talk about at lunch? What activities are you involved in? Think about your values. What’s important to you? Do you have strong religious or political beliefs? How close are you with your family? Are you excited about college more for its own sake, or because of where college will get you in the future? Write down these key points and keep them in mind as you’re perusing guidebooks, reading websites, and visiting colleges.
Researching colleges. It’s very easy when researching colleges to get caught up in rankings, name recognition, and average SAT scores. It’s OK to keep some schools on your list because you’re impressed by these things, but only after you have done in-depth research that goes beyond the college admissions FAQs. One place to start is with descriptive college guides such as The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges and Fiske Guide to Colleges. These sources provide detailed written descriptions of hundreds of colleges. As you read them, pay attention to quotes and details that align with things that are important to you.
You should also do some research through the colleges themselves. Take virtual tours on their websites, reach out to current students and admissions counselors, and ask open-ended questions about the things that matter to you. For example, instead of asking if you need to join a fraternity to have a social life, you could ask about what students like to do on the weekend. Open-ended questions may lead to answers that more accurately reflect the reality on campus. You’ll be able to get a sense of how each college matches (or doesn’t match) your needs and interests.
Ideally, you should like all of the schools on your list: reaches, probables, and likelies. If you are committed to finding colleges that are a good fit, you should have no trouble finding a range of colleges you’d be happy to attend. Besides, any extra research and thought you put toward this process will help make your applications that much stronger and will also make it more likely that you’ll end up in the right place in the end.