Choosing your college can be complicated. Many students can find themselves paralyzed by the thought of picking the school that is right for them. As someone who has worked with hundreds of these students, I am here to give you my top five tips for choosing the college that will be right for YOU.
1. Do some soul searching
When you are starting to think about the schools that you want to apply to, I encourage you to really consider what you want out of your university experience. Think about the things that are important to you. Do you want a school that has tons of school spirit? Do you want to walk around campus and know basically everyone? Do you know what programs you’re interested in, or are you a little more undecided? You should think about these questions and more, they will help you decide where you should focus your college search.
Though you should absolutely talk to your parents or guardians, friends and mentors about their opinions and experiences, I encourage you to try your best to do this soul searching on your own. It’s really easy to get distracted by other people’s opinions, so try to think this through and be honest with yourself about what you really want….not what your sister’s best friend thinks you want.
2. Research a wild card
Now that you have done this awesome soul searching and you know that you’re leaning toward a large, state school with an awesome physics program and extracurricular activities galore, I challenge you to research one smaller school.
Looking at all in-state schools? Take a look at one that is out of state. Now you may be thinking, “I just did all of this self reflection and I know what I want! Why would I look at the exact opposite type of school?” This exercise is simply to get you out of your own mental echo chamber and make sure that you’re not missing out on a school that you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
Talk to some ambassadors, email with your admissions counselor at that school and also get to know the university. Who knows, you might be surprised. If you are, repeat step one.
3. Narrow your list
When I was choosing a college, my list topped off at 14 institutions. FOURTEEN. It was (and still is) ridiculously unnecessary to send out that many applications. There were a few schools on that list that I knew I would never get into. I just applied because it seemed like something I “should do”. But that was silly. I stressed out, lost sleep, spent way too much on applications and overwhelmed myself for no reason. I’m here to encourage you to not repeat my mistake.
Most college counselors recommend that you apply to no more than seven schools. Two “reach” schools, three “target” schools, and two “safe” schools. If I could go back, I would also recommend this tactic to my younger self. If you’ve done the work to look into the schools you’re applying to, you will know that they are the right ones for you and you won’t have to waste time and money on schools that aren’t the right fit.
4. Talk to everyone
Seriously. Don’t be shy about asking questions to all of the people that you come into contact with during your college search process. Come up with a list of two to three questions that are thoughtful and ask them to each person you interact with at the schools on your list. Ask questions that are meaningful to you and refer back to your soul searching to help guide what those questions should be. Here’s a few to consider: What made you pick this school? What is your favorite class that you have taken on campus? What does this institution do to care for its student’s mental health?
If you’re able to visit the schools you’re interested in, that’s great! If not, using a service like Unibuddy is a great way to get in touch with students and staff members to have those meaningful conversations. Ultimately, the information that you get from the people at the university is the most important. They are the people you’ll be interacting with, the community you’ll be joining. It is extremely important that they make you feel like you belong.
5. Trust your gut
When I think back on my own experience of choosing a college, I realize that the school I picked was always going to be the right fit for me. I talked to the students who went there, interacted with the admissions staff and took a tour. I always left the interaction with a feeling of genuine excitement that I didn’t get when I interacted with other schools. It was almost as though my gut knew it was the place for me before my head would admit that was true.
So, pay attention to the signals you get when you interact with the schools you’re applying to. There’s a good chance that there will be one or two institutions that make their way to the top of the list based on that metric alone.
There you go! Those are my top five tips to finding your “perfect fit” university. The search process is stressful, I completely understand. Remember that your path does not have to look the same as your sibling, your best friend or your neighbor. Ask good questions and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. If push comes to shove, send me a message and I’m happy to be a listening ear!