How to Research Colleges and Choose the Best Fit For You
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Choosing a college is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Many high school students get wrapped in up in big name colleges, schools that older friends or siblings have attended, or colleges that their parents hope they’ll attend. These are valid reasons for considering a college, but they aren’t the best way to choose your college.
Instead, high school students should take a more holistic approach to choosing colleges. To do this, you’ll need to research colleges carefully using a number of different resources. Once you have an extensive list of colleges that meet your search criteria, you’ll need to narrow them down according to your own priorities. To learn more about how to research colleges and identify those that are the best fit for you, read this important post.
Why You Need to Research Colleges
There are over 5,000 colleges and universities in the United States. This means that no matter how many you visit, hear about from friends, or read about in prominent college rankings, you’ll likely still never hear the names of the majority of colleges and universities that exist.
You are unique. No one before or after you will ever be the same exact kind of community member, student, or athlete. No one will bring with them the exact same strengths and weaknesses or preferences and dislikes. This means that your search for a college that fits you best will also be unique. While it’s helpful to hear from friends, mentors, and family members about schools that might interest you, ultimately there should be a lot more behind your search for the best college for you.
What Makes a College a “Good Fit”?
As you begin researching colleges, it’s important to recognize what a “good fit” college looks like for you. Some aspects that you should consider include:
Are your grades and test scores in line with those of admitted students? Do you have a reasonable chance of getting into the college? Beyond that, will you be able to keep up with the level of academics expected of students there? These are important questions to ask as you decide whether a school is a good fit academically.
Finances are a substantial factor in many family’s college decisions. You’ll need to have a conversation with your parents about the colleges you can afford. You’ll also need to weigh the scholarships and aid packages that are offered at each college before you can make an informed decision.
Some students have particular needs that need to be met on campus. Others prefer access to certain campus resources. If you know that an extensive research library or a community of diverse students are important to you, you will need to find out if these are available at the schools you’re interested in attending.
Ultimately the school you attend will need to prepare you for your future. Does it offer the majors you’re interested in? Does it offer combined lines of study or other specifics you’re interested in? Start with your long term goals and work backwards from there to decide which programs are most important to you in choosing a college.
Online Research Tools
One simple way to begin researching colleges is online. There are extensive online search tools now that allow you to narrow your choices according to geographical location, programs of study, size, and other factors that might be important to you.
One great starting point is the Big Future. This resource provided by the College Board provides a unique query tool that allows you to filter by dozens of factors, including according to your own grades or test scores.
You can also perform simple web queries on your own. Google searches for terms such as “colleges with the best performance music programs” will yield lots of results to explore. Be prepared to spend some time wading through them and don’t stop after the first page of results. Many colleges or third party sites spend significant funds ensuring that they top the Google search results, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any better than results that fall lower in the Google rankings.
In addition, CollegeVine also provides a customized college list generator using specialized algorithms backed by over 100,000 data points to develop a school list based on your student’s real admissions chances and preferences. For more information, check out our College Applications Guidance program.
While talking with friends and family shouldn’t be the backbone of your college research, it should still play an important role. After all, your friends and family know you best and may have valuable insights into colleges that will be a good fit for you. Also, attending a college where you know a few people might be an important factor in your college search. Only you can decide how important it is to attend a school where you already know some students. Just be wary of weighing your friends’ college choices as heavily as more important factors like programs of study and quality educational resources.
Another valuable resource is your guidance counselor. Optimize conversation about college choices with your guidance counselor by preparing for it ahead of time. Make a list of your priorities in a “best fit” college. What is its ideal setting, geographical location, size, and specialty? Consider things like selectivity, demographics, and campus culture as well.
Once you have developed a list of your own priorities, share it via email with your guidance counselor. Ask if he or she has some time to sit down with you to discuss your priorities and offer some insights into schools that he or she feels may be a good fit.
Many guidance counselors juggle the needs and questions of hundreds of students, but if you prepare for your meeting in advance and give your guidance counselor the information he or she needs to prepare as well, you can expect to have a much more productive meeting.
College fairs are another way to learn more about colleges. Essentially, these are events where college admissions representatives get together to present information about their colleges and to attract students who might be a good fit. Remember, it’s not just students who want to find a college that fits—colleges want to attract students who are a good fit as well!
Before a college fair, you will be able to see a list of which colleges and universities are attending. Take advantage of this by researching schools in advance so that you know which may be of interest to you. Then, brainstorm a list of thoughtful questions that will help you in your search for a best fit college. To learn more about maximizing your attendance at a college fair, check out our post CollegeVine’s How to Make the Most of a College Fair.
If you can’t attend a college fair in person or if the schools you’re interested in aren’t attending, consider attending an online fair. These are virtual fairs where admissions representatives are available to chat and field questions in an online forum. College Week Live is one host of online college fairs. Check out their Event Schedule to see when specific schools will be participating.
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