If I could redo my entire college search and admissions process over again, I would. As I reflect on what it was like to be in your shoes, I realize I was prioritizing the wrong things. Asking the wrong questions. Or not asking enough questions?
The college search process is so much more than applying to an institution because of its elite reputation, the fact that your entire family went there, or because you and your best friends made a pact to attend the same college. Instead, the college search process should be all about you. I get it—right now, you might just want to receive an acceptance letter from any institution because “all you need is one!" But what does it matter if you get accepted to an institution, step foot onto campus, and find yourself without support and unfulfilled?
This is where the idea of ‘college fit’ comes into play. It is yet another term you’ll hear time and time again over the next few months, but it’s an important one! College fit is about finding the institution that can support your academic, extracurricular, career, and social interests through the services, offerings, and community it provides its students. Some questions you may ask yourself include: Which school provides a strong liberal arts education that I am looking for? Will I be able to study abroad despite being a student athlete with a rigorous schedule? Will I find a sense of community on campus as a first-generation college student? Most importantly: Will I be happy at this institution? ...and somehow I’ve likely managed to make the college search process even more overwhelming for you. My apologies, but I promise that we can break this down in a way that is easy to understand and will also make your search process as exciting as it should be!
Location, location, location...where a school is located can have a big impact on your college experience. It will be important for you to identify what type of environment you will feel most comfortable and successful in. Are you looking for a location that is urban, suburban, or rural? Are you looking forward to the hustle and bustle of a loud city, or do you need the peace and quiet of a small town? How far away from home do you want to be? Location of a school can also impact proximity to airports, public transportation, grocery stores, hair salons, and other necessities, so take this into consideration, too. What are your personal needs and how does the location of each school impact them?
Each college or university has a campus culture that is curated by its mission and vision, values, and size. Ultimately, each institution develops a personality and it can impact the lifestyle that most students adopt while attending that school. When researching schools, you may want to consider how your own personality will mesh with the culture or personality of each institution. For example, do your values align with those of each college? Do the colleges you’re considering have missions and visions that resonate with you? Lastly, are you comfortable with the size and make-up of the student body at each school?
Size can impact your experience, both academically and socially. For example, larger schools might mean you are always meeting someone new, which can be exciting! But it can also mean larger class sizes or difficulty receiving 1-on-1 assistance from a professor. A smaller school could offer an average class size of 10, which is comforting for some but could be nerve-wracking for others. It could also mean the school offers a tight-knit community which may or may not be something you’re seeking. Overall, campus culture can impact so many aspects of the college experience such as school spirit, extracurricular offerings, sense of belonging, study habits, weekend activities, and more. To get a feel for campus culture, ask current students to share their thoughts and experiences with you!
What type of institution is this school? Is this a research university or a liberal arts college? It is important to recognize how a school classifies itself because this can directly impact the resources, support, and offerings that will be provided for you. For example, research universities will likely offer more opportunities for student research and to work alongside distinguished professors making groundbreaking discoveries. On the other hand, liberal arts colleges may encourage students to explore all of their academic interests and to fully engage in interdisciplinary learning. Or, perhaps you’re seeking a research university with the heart and soul of a liberal arts college...Tufts could be the place for you (hope you don’t mind a shameless plug)!
Does this institution offer the academic program(s) you are interested in? Although I fully don’t expect you to be 100% set on your academic and career plans just yet, you will still want to attend a school that offers academic programs that interest you. On the other hand, if you’re undecided about your major(s) or academic interests, look for institutions that offer a wide range of academic programs you can envision yourself pursuing. A good sign that a school is a good fit for you is if you are excited by many of their academic offerings!
Although it may not feel like it right now, your college application process is a two-way street. Sure, you may be the one initially submitting applications for consideration, but at the end of the day, with college acceptance letters in hand, it will be up to you to decide which school will be the best fit for you. Think carefully and choose wisely! Reflect on what your priorities are regarding the college experience you want for yourself. Remember to ask lots of questions, whether it’s towards current students during a campus visit or an admissions officer via email. As stressful as this process can be, it’s also an exciting one. Enjoy it as much as you can and find schools that are a good fit for you!