When it comes to choosing the right college, there are a lot of factors to consider.
Everything from the climate to the school’s size can affect whether it’s right for you. There are dozens of details, stats, and rumors to entertain when deciding if a school stays on your list or ultimately gets crossed off.
College Raptor encourages students to use a three-part process to find the schools that are best for them.
The process involves looking at colleges from all angles and determining the right fit based on a combination of facts and “gut” feeling.
1. Academic fit
When most students think about college fit, they think about the academic fit – usually in the sense of “Is my GPA good enough to get in?”
But that’s not the only reason why academic fit matters.
Of course, college admissions are an important part of the process, but once you’ve arrived on campus, you’ll want to ensure you fit in academically. It’s okay to be above or below the curve, but if you’re struggling to keep up or none of your classes challenge you to the point where it’s enhancing your education, then it’s not a good fit.
To evaluate your academic fit, you can look at indicators like the ACT/SAT scores, class records, and GPA of other incoming freshman students. You can find this kind of information online through a tool like College Raptor, or you can ask your high school counselor or college admissions contact. You can also look at student-faculty ratios, average class size, and course methods (lecture vs. discussion) to see what fits your preferred learning style.
Find a place where you fit in academically, and you should have plenty of opportunity to learn from professors, faculty, and other students.
2. Cultural fit
If academic fit is basic compatibility, then cultural fit is all of the “soft skills” you need to find the right school. Each student’s cultural preferences will be unique–and they may even change!
It’s not uncommon for a student to begin their college search thinking they’re only interested in large public universities only to later decide that a small, liberal arts school is actually a better fit for them.
The only true way to understand what cultural elements are important to you is to experience as many different campus cultures as possible. This is why college visits are so important. Even then, there are things you may not even consider that can come into play.
A list of some cultural factors to consider might include:
- Campus setting (urban, rural, etc.)
- Campus size (small, medium, large)
- Extracurricular activities
- Racial/ethnic diversity
- Economic diversity
- Geographic diversity
- Political culture
- Religious affiliation
Lastly, don’t forget to trust your gut. If you’re on a campus visit and the college checks all of the boxes on your list, but for some reason it just doesn’t feel right, that’s probably a good sign it might not be the school for you.
3. Financial fit
Although it’s the third “fit” on the list, financial fit may arguably be the most important.
College costs can be a very difficult, and eye-opening, issue to discuss, but they’re an essential part of the decision process. The cost of college should be just as important as any other aspect of college fit, and it should not just be ignored as something you’ll “figure out down the road.”
Finding the right financial fit doesn’t mean going to the least expensive school. Instead, it means balancing the financial investment of college with the expected return. Is it a good investment?
Considering the right financial fit means thinking not only about paying for college (e.g. student loans, scholarships, etc.) but also living expenses and costs while enrolled, such as commuting expenses to and from home, food, and entertainment.
The key here is to shop around and ask about financial aid. Don’t necessarily run from a school just because it has a high price. You may qualify for a big scholarship or other financial aid that makes it much more affordable. You can use each college’s net price calculator (or use the College Raptor match tool) to see what kind of financial aid you might receive.
Again, remember to think not only long term about the cost and return of a degree but also think about the situation you’ll be in two years from now – will you have the financial resources you need to stay enrolled and get your degree? Ultimately, that’s what matters.