A sometimes overlooked factor in deciding which admissions offer to accept is whether a college really is a good fit. No matter how well ranked a school, it isn’t a good school for you if you don’t embrace the campus environment. Determining the best fit means you can be assured on college move-in day that, despite any initial jitters, you are in the right place to pursue meaningful opportunities and be successful.
Here are five points for the consideration of college fit.
1. Competitive vs. Supportive Feel
Some students work better in a shark tank. They will push themselves to perform to their highest potential and maintain a laser-like focus on their goals within a highly competitive environment. Others will shut down, overwhelmed and inhibited from working to their potential. The feel of the community will vary across majors and social circles, but it’s worth becoming aware of details that influence campus culture. For example, UC Berkeley is known for cutthroat competition among students as a result of bell-curve grading policies in some departments.
2. New Locale
Many graduating high school students are bravely seeking new adventures. Students in the suburb want to move to the city; students in the city want to experience life in a quaint college town. However, for those of you who will be away from the family home for the first time, it’s worth becoming informed about what it’s like to function independently in the new location. A student from an LA suburb might struggle to navigate NYU’s decentralized urban campus in the snow. A student from Boston might be surprised a car is necessary to take full advantage of internship opportunities offered by UC San Diego. In some cases, it’s wise to make a less drastic location change for your undergraduate years.
3. Unexpected Benefit and Hidden Cost
Although public universities offer predictable tuition rates, private schools routinely include price breaks with their admissions offers. The most substantial price breaks go to the most desired applicants in the pool, such as those with high test scores, specific interests, or backgrounds serving to diversify the student community. It is therefore advisable that you apply to at least a couple private colleges, regardless of tuition rates, to see what your offers are. On the unexpected cost side of things, there are various aspects of student life at both publics and privates that may add to the cost of college, such as parking permits, plane tickets home, membership fees, common forms of student entertainment, and off-campus housing rates.
4. Greek Life and Athletics
You should know in advance how strong a presence both Greek organizations and athletics have on campus. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a large number of students are sorority or fraternity members. At the University of Michigan, competitive sports are an integral part of campus culture. Students who aren’t interested in these activities may feel as if their ability to network and make social connections is adversely affected. Students who are interested in these activities may be disappointed with a college life devoid of Greek traditions and big rah-rah football games.
5. Access and Size
A large university will offer a dazzling array of opportunities, but what’s important for you to know is the percentage of undergraduates who get involved and to what extent. The best research opportunities and field experiences tend to go to graduate students, so small colleges without substantial grad populations may offer you the best access to the kinds of opportunities that will prepare you for career and grad school. Furthermore, if you haven’t learned to be assertive about finding resources and achieving goals, you may achieve more in a small college setting.
Every year, thousands of college freshmen drop out of school by the second term. Taking the time to look beyond rankings and majors before accepting an admissions offer can save you from future regret. With a combination of self-knowledge and practical considerations, you can determine which college is your best fit.