How to Find the Right College Match – Part I

Finding your college match

Finding the right college match may seem daunting when you first start thinking about college, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are the top 5 things to consider at the outset of your college search that will lead to finding the right college for you. The idea is to get to know what you want in a school before you even start to create a list of schools to consider. The college search process involves getting to know yourself and thinking about what’s important to you.

I’ll add another five to this list in my next blog.

Top 5 Things to Consider When Finding a College Match

1. Location

Some of my students limit their searches to colleges within a few hours’ drive; others to how easily they can get to a college or university by train. Still others are happy to fly – across the United States and even to other countries.

         * How important is being close to home or farther away? And if farther away, how far?

         * How important is weather?

I certainly have had students tell me that they prefer a particular climate – often warm rather than cold, although there are others who know they want to be at a place where there is snow. That brings me to another consideration:

         * How important is it to be close to….? You fill in the blank. It can be close to family or close to the seashore or ski mountain or hiking trails or a city or internship opportunities in the program you want to study. Or just about anything else.

2. Size

         There are ways to start thinking about size even if you haven’t walked onto a college campus.

         * Are you someone who likes to speak up in class or would you prefer to just listen?

Listeners often like lectures, which are more typical in bigger schools. Students who  participate in class often like group settings in which they have the opportunity to talk (and are called on by their professors), which are more typical in smaller schools.

         * Do you like to get to know your teachers?

If you do, then you are more likely to know your college professors in a smaller school than in a large one where there are a lot of students in a large lecture class.

         * Do you like to recognize or know most of the students you see as you walk across campus?

If you do,  you probably are leaning towards a smaller school. If it’s not important to know a lot of the people you see on campus and also like to keep meeting new people all the time, then you might be inclined towards a larger school.

Note that as you progress through any college or university, classes tend to get smaller, especially once you declare your major. And even in large universities, you still can find small classes, often writing classes, first year seminars and language classes. To gauge class size, one element you should consider is the student/teacher ratio (such as 10/1 or 16/1): the number of students taught by a single professor. The smaller the ratio, the more likely the school will be on the smaller side. It’s also important to find out the details behind the ratio, such as the student/teacher ration for freshman year, which can vary from the overall ratio.

3. Campus

Students probably spend more time just hanging out than in doing anything else, so it’s important to think about who will be around when class is over.

         * Do students live on campus or do they commute from home? If they are commuters, do they still spend a lot of time on campus?

A residential campus is a campus where most students, if not all, live on campus. In some schools, all students live on campus for four years. In others, students may move to off-campus housing after freshman or sophomore year, but they aren’t moving back home and  they still spend a lot of time on campus. Other schools are populated mostly by students who do commute from home and may not spend a lot of time on campus outside of class. And it’s a good idea to think about whether students usually stay on campus or venture off campus for activities – and how often. I find that freshmen are less likely to venture off campus than students in later years.

         * Is the campus urban or suburban or rural?

College campuses exist in cities, towns, suburbs and in the countryside. Which area or areas appeal to you? Do you want to see palm trees or oak trees or evergreens – or do you prefer to see buildings and streets? Although there are college campuses in cities, what we often refer to as an “urban” campus is one in which the campus blends into a city, where the campus does not have a definitive area and the people you see as you walk to class along a city street are a mix of college students, professors, administrators, and local residents.

         * What does the campus look like?

Are you someone who cares about what the campus looks like? Is the physical space important,  such as whether  the architecture is traditional or modern – or are those things unimportant?  Do you want to see a lot of green spaces? Do you want the campus to be compact so that you don’t have to walk far to and from classes?  Are you happy to be on a campus that is so big that many students get around by bicycle or through a campus bus shuttle?

4. Students

Colleges have different vibes depending on the types of students who populate their campuses.

         * Is there a mix of types of students or is one type more prominent?

Are you looking for a school where students are conservative or liberal?  Do you want to go to school with students who are activists or students who are religious? Do you want to attend a college with students who are interested in studying business or the visual or fine arts or music or literature, for example, or students who are outdoorsy or interested in the social sciences or natural sciences or technological fields like engineering? Do you want to hang out with students who go to football games or students who don’t care about sports? Do you want to hang out with students who like to participate in debate or theater or a capella groups or multi-cultural clubs or community service or student government or the student newspaper, to name a few extracurricular  areas?

Focusing on your interests and the kinds of clubs and extracurricular activities that a college offers can help in your search.

5. Grades

You don’t have to be a straight-A student to get into college, but the college match does depend on your grades and what grades each college wants to see.

         * What are your grades? What is your overall GPA (grade point average)?

Colleges often post the average or middle 50% high school GPAs of incoming students on their websites.  Most  grade on a 4.0 GPA scale, and even if your high school doesn’t grade that way, the colleges to which you apply will be able to figure out where your grades fall on the 4.0 scale. Most colleges consider the grades in your application from 9th grade through the first semester of 12th grade.

More resources on finding your college match

Check out my College Blog to read more  articles on the college search process that can help you find the right college match.