Choosing the Right Fit
If you’re like any student, you have so many different interests and your plan for the future seems to change every minute. Guess what? YOU’RE NORMAL! Most high school students are multifaceted and have a wide variety of things they like to do, ways they learn the best, and therefore what kind of college experience is going to be the best for them. These different interests are actually really great attributes that you can use to search for and find the best colleges. To help you, here are some tips for searching for colleges that will not only help you study what you want but thrive over four years!
Put Yourself Before the Brand Name
I get it. It’s tempting to take the easy way out and only look at the schools you’ve heard of (or that your uncle tells you to apply to!). But trust me when I say that putting yourself in the mindset of finding what you want in a college, instead of convincing yourself that a name brand school will automatically be a fit for you just because others say so, is 100% the best way to go.
The best way to avoid this trap is to write down, on paper, a list of everything you want to have in college experience:
- rural, urban, or suburban
- small, medium, or large
- discussion classes or large lectures
- stuff to do on the weekends or all academics all the time?
Answers to these questions and more will really get your creative juices flowing and let you step back to fully appreciate what you just defined as the ideal experience for YOU. Now that you have defined what a good fit college experience actually looks like to you, you’re ready to start your search.
Start Broad, Then Refine
With your list of great fit attributes in hand, you can use online tools like the College Board’s Big Future tool to refine their search filters to fit the attributes on your list. When adding filters, it’s best to add them a few at a time so you don’t get overly specific and turn up zero schools. Instead, search for a few of your key attributes, then add some more, until you have around 20-30 schools to look through.
Now comes the fun part, using this list you can start to dive into these colleges’ websites to learn more about their majors offered and register for virtual tours to get a feel for campus. Maybe even contact an admission counselor for your area to ask them specific questions, or connect with a current student you can email with to learn about the day to day experience.
Once you’ve done some of this preliminary research, you will find things you like and things you don’t like about each college and can start to create a list of colleges you definitely want to apply to. Now go back to the beginning and start the process all over again to add more colleges to your list until you have about six to eight colleges in front of you. You just made your first draft of YOUR college list.
Now that you have your first college list, it’s time to make sure you actually have a realistic chance of being admitted to most of the colleges you apply to. After all, it’s not really a good fit if you’re unlikely to get in, is it?
Using the Admitted Student Profile published on the admission office website, you’ll want to look at the middle 50% range of SAT or ACT scores, the average GPA, and average class rank (ignore it if your school doesn’t rank). These numbers aren’t designed to be hard and fast requirements for admission (if there actually are minimum scores and GPAs, the website will say so), but they’re meant to give you a ballpark about what most of their admitted students had in terms of quantifiable metrics.
What you want to do is make sure that at least half to three quarters of your list are colleges where your scores are above the middle 50% range and your unweighted GPA is above their average. This doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be admitted, but it means you’ll likely pass the first test, which is showing you’re able to succeed academically at that college. Then, everything else in your application can shine and be the determining factors that gets you selected.
By ensuring that you actually have realistic chances of getting in, you’re now able to adjust your list of colleges so a few are unlikely chances but MOST are places where you can actually end up enrolling.
That’s it! It sounds easy on paper but I’ll be honest with you and tell you that this process takes a few weeks or months depending on how much you’ve already thought about what an ideal college experience looks like. Don’t let yourself get discouraged by remembering to have fun with this process and letting yourself dream about what life at each of these colleges will look like. Before you know it, you’ll have a list of six or so colleges you’re ready to apply to and a solid game plan for your future.