10 Questions to Help You Determine the Right College Fit

In an earlier post, we highlighted why it’s important for talented, low-income students to apply to selective colleges and universities.  When the world is your oyster, how do you decide which school is the right fit? 

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Importance of Fit

The college search is about finding schools that match your abilities and interests, as well as help you to reach your personal goals.  When considering whether a school “fits” you, think about: size, location, distance from home, programs of study, extracurricular activities, diversity, and student life, among others.  

When considering fit, ask yourself the following 10 questions:

Question 1:  How far away do I want to be from home? A car ride, train ride, or plane ride away? (Consider costs for travel home during school vacations.)

Question 2:  Do I want a small community where I recognize almost every face as I walk around my college campus (and have people recognize me) or would I rather be in a bigger place where I can be a bit more anonymous?

Question 3:  Do I learn best in larger lectures or do I prefer smaller discussion-based classes?

Question 4:  Does the idea of attending college in a big city excite or frighten me?  How do I feel about living in a more rural or quiet setting?    

Question 5:  What top three academic programs would my ideal college offer? What major or minor am I most interested in?

Question 6:  What top three extracurricular activities would the ideal college have for me?

Question 7:  What additional features would the ideal college for me have (e.g. writing center, math center, honor code, learning support center, access to a particular religious community)?

Question 8:  What kinds of people do I like spending time with or want to spend time with in college?  Artsy?  Athletic?  Passionate about helping others?  Studious?  Social?

Question 9:  What have I liked most about high school (consider size, extracurricular offerings, relationships with teachers, etc.)?

Question 10:  What have I liked least about high school (consider size, extracurricular offerings, relationships with teachers, etc.)? 

Use your answers to guide your college fit exploration.  For example, your answers regarding your high school experience can help you look for colleges that replicate aspects you love and alter those aspects you’d like to change. 

Researching a variety of schools will help you build a balanced list of schools to which you will ultimately apply. 

Building a Balanced List

The list of colleges you are interested in will evolve greatly during the admissions process, and it is important to proactively research your options. Websites such as College Greenlight and College Board, college guidebooks, your high school’s college/career center, and the public library are great sources of information.

Explore schools that fit your academic profile (meaning GPA and standardized test scores) as well as your personal and career interests.  Don’t focus too much on cost at the beginning of your search as most selective colleges offer generous financial aid packages. You should look at schools that fall into three categories: 

  • Reach Schools — Your GPA and standardized test scores fall at or below the school’s published data on accepted students and/or the acceptance rate is less than 30%.
  • Target Schools — Your GPA and standardized test scores fit the school’s published data on accepted students and the acceptance rate is around 30% – 60%.
  • Likely Schools — Your GPA and standardized test scores are at or above the school’s published data on accepted students and the acceptance rate is 60% or higher.

When you craft your final list of 8-12 colleges to which you will ultimately apply, you should include schools from each category based on the following approximate distribution. Your final list of colleges should include:

  • 2 – 3 Reach Schools
  • 4 – 5 Target Schools
  • 2 – 3 Likely Schools

As you conduct your research, you might consider using this Jack Kent Cooke Foundation  College Research Worksheet to organize your findings.

Happy researching!