The Right Fit
sorting through 4,000 colleges and universities
The upcoming year will be an exciting one. Homecoming. The Senior Prom. Graduation. And, yes, determining which of the nation's 4,000 colleges and universities might be the one for you.
At first glance, culling the list down to a handful of schools to which you will apply seems to be a daunting task. With the proper approach, however, you can intelligently navigate the college search process, and still have time to enjoy your final year of high school.
If you take nothing else from this essay, we hope you will realize the need for the proper "fit." Annually, students around the country choose colleges and universities for the wrong reasons. These might include choosing a school based on where your friends are going, the climate in the city where your college is located, how highly ranked a university or college is, or because they feel that there is only one college in the world where they can be happy.
The truth is, there are many fine institutions throughout the country where you can thrive and succeed. Your task is to figure out which environment will best allow you to use your God-given talents. Not every college or university is the right place for every student. You want to make sure that the schools on your list are right for you. How do you do that? Allow us to offer some factors that you may want to consider.
The size of a university can be a major factor in your success during the next four years. A small college may be just what you need: structure, an intimate community setting, and a campus where you may have the opportunity to work on developing leadership skills and confidence. On the other hand, you might find a small college to be limiting in its academic, social, or other opportunities.
A large university may be desirable if you are looking for unlimited growth opportunities, where you can develop close friendships with those within your residence hall or major, but where you are not known to everyone. Conversely, you might feel overwhelmed by a large university, and may worry about not finding the structure you need.
Perhaps you are looking for a school whose size is in between. As you look around the country, you will find that most institutions are either small liberal arts colleges or large state or research universities. By determining which size is right for you, one can quickly eliminate many schools from their list. If you are looking for a medium-sized university, you can narrow your search even further!
Similar to size, this can be an easy way to hone your list of colleges. Again, self-evaluation is essential. You may be attracted to the excitement of a major city environment, where you can always find something to do. However, if you would be distracted by the unlimited opportunities that an urban campus would provide, perhaps a college or university located in the city is not the right one for you.
Spending most of your time on campus at a rural college may help you to feel more connected to the college and your classmates and will give you the sense of belonging you are seeking. On the other hand, you may feel that not having access to all that a city has to offer may be limiting.
Once again, you may be looking for something in between: a suburban environment where you would have some, but not all, of the advantages of both a rural and urban setting. By determining the most appropriate setting, you can continue to narrow your search.
It is important to remember that the number one reason most students attend a college is for its academics. When looking at a college or university, you should consider which programs it offers, as well as the focus of the institution.
If you are relatively certain that you want to study business, then schools without a business program can be ruled out. If you have been reading the Wall Street Journal since you were five years old, then perhaps you'll want to consider a business specialty school. If you are uncertain about your future plans, but have always thought a career in business might be interesting, perhaps you'll want to consider a full university with many options for the future. That way, if you rule out business after your first economics exam, you will still have many other options to consider.
Since many students either enter as "undecided" or change their major at some point, many decide to include colleges that offer courses in each of the academic areas that are of interest to them.
This one is a bit more difficult to decipher. If you have already begun the college search, you may have found that your friends and family or the media can be quick to offer their impressions of certain colleges' reputations. Some may be accurate, while others may not.
Be careful not to rely too heavily on third-party sources who have not actually stepped foot onto a particular college's campus. Remember that opinions are biased. For example, an author of a college guidebook may tell you that College X is "too liberal." Unfortunately, you know nothing about the author's life experiences or personal preferences. Therefore, you have no context about the comparisons he or she is using.
Another person — perhaps an aunt, uncle, or family friend — may tell you that a campus is "too small." Their impression may come from the fact that they spent time on College Y's campus during their college days. But, since they haven't been back to campus in 20 years, they aren't aware that during the past two decades, 17 new buildings were constructed and the size of the student body has doubled.
The only way you can understand the current culture of a college's student body is for you to spend some time on that college's campus to develop your own opinions. The summer months are quickly approaching. We recommend that, if you have not done so already, you begin to visit college campuses. Go on campus tours. Talk to current students. Ask difficult questions. In doing so, you will be able to determine for yourself if the college's culture is right for you.
These are just some of the ways in which you can begin to determine which schools may be the right fit for you. As mentioned before, remember that there are many schools at which you could be successful. College rankings are tools that allow students to get a quick look at level of selectivity of universities around the country. Be careful, however, not to get too wrapped up in them. Just because a school is ranked higher than another on your list doesn't mean that it is necessarily the right fit for you. While it might be difficult to do, given the pressure by others to attend a top-ranked school, if you are to be truly happy and fully maximize your growth during the college years, it is critical that you choose fit over prestige.
Too often, students tell us that if they don't get into their first-choice college, they just don't know what they will do. If you take the proper approach to the college search process by realizing that many schools will allow you to further develop as a student and a citizen of the world, then the answer to your question is easy: Simply choose one of the other schools on your list that also happens to be "the right fit."