There are several logistical factors that go into choosing a school before you start even talking about fit. Included in those are: cost and location. These are the first two topics that I suggest parents to focus on when discussing options for college prior to diving into the nitty gritty. These can really be deal breakers when it comes to making the decision as a family in which colleges/universities to apply to. This is also the time to consider application to some schools that might be out of geographical or financial reach because they are such great opportunities that you’d like to test out the waters (see what financial aid package comes through or make a visit or two to Colorado?) prior to making a final decision to rule it out.
Ok, the next section is the nitty gritty I mentioned above – it’s about fit. What type of college, surrounding, environment will help you thrive and accomplish your future goals – that’s fit. There are a ton of components to fit and what will be the “best” college to help you thrive. First consider the items below and what your preferences might be.
- Size of the entering class/size of the campus
- Student Faculty Ratios
- Geography (how far from home? City or rural? Seasons, Cloudy, or Sunny?)
- Cultural diversity
- Internship/job opportunities
- Study abroad/traveling opportunities
- Engaging curriculum, topics to study (experimental colleges, engineering with legos, Japanese Art History)
- Activities that match your interests (think: intramural sports, arts, orchestra, cultural clubs)
- Academic support services
- Career services (read: help with job interviews, recruiting, resume building)
- Campus safety
- Campus life (commuter students, residential, Greek life, etc)
- Health and wellness (read: food and exercise options)
- Alumni networks – what can the school do for you after you’re out
You now have a good idea of what types of schools you should be looking at. Coupled with your test scores and school grades/ranking, you have a good idea of where you will fit on the spectrum. For students looking to be at a more competitive or rigorous school, you might consider taking this information to the ranking reports and see which schools might be a good fit. Others might use a resource like http://collegeapps.about.com/od/choosingacollege/u/choose_a_school.htm to narrow down on small class sizes, large campuses, or programs with a lot of academic support services.
Okay, I know that feels a bit backward because I haven’t yet talked about a good academic match. Well that’s because for the majority of students don’t have a really specific niche yet and that’s because many students haven’t experienced enough to know what they don’t know about the opportunities in careers in the world. For the majority of students, I’d recommend to know a general idea of the industry or job function you’d like to go into after college and narrow down the application list to those that have that type of program available (think broad: marketing = marketing, psychology, sociology; business = applied math, economics, business; teaching = child development, psychology, education).
If in the rare case you are one of those high school juniors/seniors that knows what they want to be – the above list is still something to think about, but you may want to apply the thought topics to list of schools that already exists of your specialized interest (music conservatories/colleges, programs with strong pre-med or combined degree programs, business schools, etc).
The next step after creating a solid list (the usual is between 7-12 schools) is visiting them (if you haven’t already) and making sure the schools are diversified in terms of possibilities for acceptance (reach schools vs match schools).
Good luck in finding a few great choices for your best fit!