Experts agree that there is no “ideal” college for most students, but rather many “right fit” schools. Sizing up colleges where you’ll be comfortable, challenged and successful – places that will help you thrive academically and personally and become the person you want to be – should be the focus of your efforts. College should be an environment where you feel comfortable and can succeed academically, personally and socially. These four factors are a good rubric for evaluating colleges and assessing your fit.
Academics / Type of Institution
Education is a key reason most people attend college. It is important to choose a college where you can attain your educational goals. Some students are extremely driven, have high aspirations and thrive in a hyper-competitive environment. Others prefer a more relaxed atmosphere. Some students like large lectures while others prefer small classes. It is important that the college you select offers programs and majors of interest to you. Check out the curriculum and learn which majors are most popular (The College Board site has this information.) Seek answers to questions important to you such as: Do they offer academic programs, research or travel opportunities that appeal to you? How do undergraduates interact with the faculty? Do you agree with the teaching philosophy? How well is the college ranked? What are some of the key statistics (e.g. student/faculty ratio, freshman retention rate) that matter to you? Is the college public or private? Is it liberal arts oriented or more technical in its focus (e.g. engineering, technology, business)? Does the school offer graduate education programs? What percent complete their undergraduate studies within four years? What percent of graduates go on to graduate school and what percent embark on careers following commencement? If you are interested in professional school, what are the placement rates? How do your academic credentials compare with the students who attend? Will you fit in academically or will you be overly challenged, bored or feel out of place? Is the workload and academic rigor what you are seeking? Do you think you would thrive academically?
Physical Environment / Housing & Facilities
Location and setting may be important to you. Perhaps you prefer a city school or a sprawling country campus. Do you prefer warm weather and do you mind snow? Would you like to be near your family or relatives? Would you prefer to stay in your home state or live across the country? Would you prefer a large state school, a small private college or something in between? Would you like to be near the beach or mountains? Are you seeking a big school or a more intimate setting? Are the buildings old or modern? Are the classrooms and on-campus housing comfortable? How about transportation? Is it a hassle to get there and to get around? Are there places and activities of interest nearby — museums, theatres, ball parks, restaurants, shopping and movie theatres? Do you think you’d feel comfortable and enjoy living there?
Social / Recreation / Clubs & Activities
What is it like to be a student there? Would it be fun? Would you fit in? Would you make life-long friends? What’s the environment like? Is it a residential college, with a large percentage of students living on campus? What percent of upper classmen live on campus? Are there many commuters? Where do the students come from? How safe and easy is it to get around campus? Are the students politically active, sports focused or studying most of the time? Is it a party school or an alcohol-free environment? Is there a religious orientation? What are the most popular clubs and activities? What do students do on weekends? Do people stay on campus or go elsewhere? Is there a strong Greek (fraternity and sorority) presence? How diverse is the student body? What is the male/female ratio? Is there a strong sports and/or intramural program? How about the gym and student center? Do you think you would be happy socially and fulfilled personally?
How much would it cost to attend the college? What other costs (travel, room & board, social) will you incur? Do students spend a lot of money on restaurants and entertainment? How does it fit with your family budget? Can you afford to attend?
Lynn Radlauer Lubell, Publisher of InLikeMe.com and Founder of Admission By Design, an Educational Consultancy based in Boca Raton, Florida.