Finding the best college for you requires asking really good questions. That’s why we offer free consultations for families to get your key questions answered. Schedule your free consultation here.
When I hear a high school student ask, “How do I find the best college for me?” I smile. The student is starting from the right perspective: What works for ME, as opposed to what’s the “top-ranking college” and how can I fit into their mold? I believe strongly that your college search should be focused on the University of YOU, not the university of THEM.
We’ve helped thousands of college-bound students find the best college for them, as well as find merit aid to make college more affordable. If you’re wondering if you might benefit from guidance on your college search, check out this blog post. The college search process can and should be informative, fun and fulfilling, as well as productive when done well. Embarking on your college search is an experience that will impact the trajectory of your life. Don’t rush it. Enjoy it. Savor it!
When I sit down with a college-bound student and their parents to begin the college search process during freshman, sophomore or junior year, the first critical question we ask is: Who are you now, and who do you hope to become? It’s a tough question, no matter what your age. Many 40-year-olds couldn’t clearly answer this question! There’s no right or wrong answer, just what’s right for you as an individual. And it’s okay if your answer changes over time. The purpose is to get you to think about you and what you want from your college degree.
Often, students and parents spend too much time looking outward at colleges (What does this one have to offer? How highly is this one ranked?), and spend far too little time looking inward. That needs to change. In my college search counseling with families, I encourage students to build The University of You. Questions like the one above can help get you started.
When it comes to “how do I find the best college for me”, it’s all about fit.
What you’re after is a “great fit” between what they have to offer and what you want and need. You’re exactly one-half of the fit equation. Good old State University is State University, and you are you. Even if you get in, it might be a lousy fit. Get clear on who you are first, and the job of knowing which colleges fit you best will be much easier.
The first critical question is, “Who am I now and who do I want to become?” This gets at the type of student and type of individual you are, what you hope to gain from your college experience and, ultimately, your degree. Once you’ve spent some time journaling or somehow capturing your answer to the question, “Who am I now and who do I want to become?” there are a few essential follow-up questions.
Here they are, plus a description of why they’re helpful. Once you spend some time with these, you’ll be ready to narrow your scope to a manageable idea of the type of colleges that could be the best fit for you.
Who do I want to be around at college?
Think about the type of learning environment that lights your fire. Do you like feeling like the smartest kid in the room, or are you inspired when you’re surrounded by people who constantly push you and challenge you because they’re wicked smart, and you’re scrambling to keep up? Do you want to be around people who think like you, or people who represent very different perspectives than yours? Do you want to spend most of your time around people interested in the same field or career, or a diverse range of interests? Do you like crowds, or small intimate groups? Your answers to this question can help determine the TYPE of college that might fit you best, whether that’s a large research-oriented institution or a small private liberal arts university or something in between.
How often do I want to go home?
This question’s geared toward narrowing your geographical focus. Students are often wary to consider schools more than an hour or two from home, until they consider the fact that three-five hours away is super manageable for visits home twice per semester. If you prematurely limit your focus to schools within an hour or two of you, then you automatically exclude MOST schools, some of which might be great fits for you.
Who do you want to teach you at college?
This question gets at type and size of the college you should consider. There’s a big difference between large state universities and small private schools in terms of who’ll be leading your classroom. Especially your first two years, the likelihood that you’ll have focused face time with a full, tenured professor varies greatly from school to school. If this is important to you, it’s worth considering early on, because it will streamline your college search.
These are just a few critical questions to ask when starting your college search. A college search done well is complex and involves a lot of discussion, research, campus visits and time.If you’d like to chat more, reach out to us anytime.