It’s important to remember that a well-ranked school with a good reputation isn’t necessarily a good “fit” for your own academic, social, and professional needs. While prestige and quality of resources available are certainly important factors, feeling comfortable and supported throughout your college career should be your priority. In other words, Ivy League colleges are not well-suited for everyone. 

In this article, we will help you explore how to make a college list by providing important questions to reflect on during your college search process. Important factors to consider include academic programs, campus culture, location, financial aid and scholarships, and other professional resources. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how to decide what college to go to, read on for some helpful tips and insights about the college search process.  After all, there are many different types of colleges out there, including women’s colleges, technical colleges, large research universities, and liberal arts colleges in the East.

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Questions to ask yourself about potential colleges

If you’re wondering, what university should I go to? consider some of the questions below to get a better sense of what you value in a college. Jot down your answers so that you can reflect on them later. Then, try to keep these questions, along with your answers, in mind as you continue the article. 

  • Do you want to attend a private or public college? 
  • Do you want to attend a two-year or four-year college?
  • What are you interested in studying?
  • Do you prefer large or small colleges?
  • Do you prefer rural or urban locations?
  • How far do you want to be from home?
  •  What extracurricular activities are you interested in?
  • Are you interested in studying abroad?
  • What internship opportunities are available at each school?
  • Are there any notable professors you’d be interested in working with?
  • Are athletics important to you?
  • What’s important to you socially?

Now that we’ve explored some key brainstorming questions, let’s consider the importance of “college fit.” First off, what is a “college fit” and why is it important?

Why is college fit important?

One of the most important parts of the college application process is building your college list intentionally. For each school on your list, you should have at least a handful of specific reasons why you’ve added it to your list. These reasons could include anything from its proximity to the beach or mountains, to its impressive faculty list, to its renowned sports teams, to its study abroad and internship opportunities. Anything that makes it a good fit for you!

That said, while assembling your college list, never apply to a college or university simply because you’ve heard the name a lot and know that it is a “good” school. Building your college list intentionally involves considering how well a school meets a variety of factors you’ve identified as important for your academic, social, and professional growth. The best college searches are incredibly thorough.

How to determine college fit

Now let’s look at how to create a college list. When beginning your college search process, it is important to brainstorm what you’re looking for in your ideal college. List factors that are important to you and use them to guide your research process. As you search, do not limit yourself too much. Few schools, if any, will likely meet all of your criteria. Rather, this approach is simply intended to help you apply more strategically and intentionally.

There are many factors you could consider to determine what constitutes a good fit for you. To get you started, you might want to look into the differences between colleges and universities, as well as the differences between private and public schools. You will also want to explore college majors and think deeply about what you might want to study. College is a great opportunity to grow, but ideally, your college choice should prioritize your academic interests.

It’s also important to note that applying to schools that are a good fit boosts your chances of admission. This is because admission officers and interviewers want to see that you’ve properly researched their school and its unique offerings. Overall, the more passion you have for a particular school, the stronger your application!

Do their academic programs reflect your goals?

When selecting which colleges and universities to apply to, it is important to research what academic resources would be available to you. Let’s start by taking a look at some popular college majors. As you review the list, take note of any programs that sound interesting.

  • Agricultural Sciences
  • Anthropology and Sociology
  • Architecture
  • Biology
  • Business Administration
  • Chemistry
  • Communications
  • Computer Science
  • Creative Writing
  • Criminal Justice
  • Culinary Arts
  • Ecology
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Science
  • Film and Photography
  • Foreign Languages
  • Gender Studies
  • Graphic Design
  • History
  • International Relations
  • Literature
  • Mathematics
  • Nursing
  • Performing Arts
  • Philosophy
  • Physical Therapy
  • Physics
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Religious Studies
  • Studio Art

Each school offers different majors and some schools will offer more majors, or more specialized majors, than others. For instance, here is a brief list of slightly less common college majors. While these programs are all valuable academic disciplines, they are less likely to be offered at many colleges. Therefore, if one of these programs (or another less common program) interests you, you will likely have to research which schools offer that particular major. 

  • Audio Production
  • Book Arts
  • Comparative Literature
  • Fashion Design
  • Forestry
  • Game Design
  • Golf Course Management
  • Hotel Management
  • Journalism
  • Latin
  • Natural Resources and Conservation
  • Social Work
  • Speech-Language Pathology
  • Urban Planning

The possibilities are endless! That’s why it’s important to thoroughly reflect on what you might want to study before you commit to a college. Otherwise, you may end up having to transfer colleges, depending on your evolving interests and your school’s academic offerings.

What are the college’s values?

“Campus culture” is a broad term to denote any values––political, social, and/or religious––that tend to hold true for one’s experience at a specific college or university.

Some schools are notoriously liberal, while others are notoriously conservative. If you feel more connected to liberal ideologies, it could be the case that you would feel disconnected from your peers at more conservative universities. Additionally, if you are an activist passionate about social justice issues, you might find that campuses with a history of activism and conversations around social justice are a great fit for you.

It’s important to note that, just like students, schools have different morals and values. Typically, schools want to admit students who share similar values. For example, many colleges in the United States focus a lot on the institution’s religious identity. Depending on your own values, this could be a benefit or a detriment. 

The majority of religious colleges in the United States are Christian colleges — some are Catholic, some are Baptist, some are Quaker, etc. But there are also several notable Jewish colleges, such as Yeshiva University (located in New York City, NY), as well as several Buddhist Colleges, such as Naropa University (located in Boulder, CO) and Dharma Realm Buddhist University (located in Ukiah, CA). 

What's campus culture like?

At some schools, sports structure a majority of social life. This is not to say that a school culture that emphasizes sports does not also offer alternatives. But, you should be aware of trends in how a majority of a student body spends their time. 

Other schools embrace the energetic motto of “Work hard, play hard.” These schools may have a more intensive party atmosphere than schools that emphasize constant academic improvement and exploration all the time. Additionally, you might research what sort of extracurriculars/clubs you’d be interested in joining at each school on your list. Can you envision you having plenty to do to occupy your time there?

For example, are you interested in participating in Greek Life or joining a sports team? Have you always wanted to host your own radio station or work as an editor for a college newspaper or literary magazine? Maybe you’re passionate about theater. If that’s the case, does your college put on theater productions?

What type of location do you prefer?

A school’s location determines much of the social, academic, and professional activities you participate in on an average day. If you are someone who likes big crowds and large-scale events, you may not be happy at a small liberal arts college in a rural town. If you value relaxing in a more wooded and natural environment, it could be that you would be unhappy at a school such as New York University, which is at the heart of one of the busiest cities in the United States. 

The larger the city your college is located in or near, the more opportunities you have to pursue professional and volunteer opportunities during the academic year. Alternatively, if you attend a small liberal arts college in a smaller city or town, you will have fewer distractions to keep you from delving deep into your studies. If you are interested in environmental science and conservation, you may want to look at schools near natural areas of import where you could do hands-on research.

How generous are their financial aid packages?

When comparing the price at the face value of attending a state school in your state versus a private college or university in another state, the price tags are quite different. However, financial aid looks very different across not only public and private schools but on a school-by-school basis. Do not limit what schools you can afford to attend too soon. 

Some schools are known for giving great financial aid based on merit and/or financial need. If affordability is a significant factor for you when deciding where you ultimately attend college, research schools that offer students like you good aid and merit-based scholarships. Believe it or not, based on potential financial aid packages, it could end up being cheaper for you to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. than that state school two hours away from your home. 

To get a quick estimate, use the financial aid calculator on each school’s website. And, to begin structuring your college budget, consider some college financial plans. You’ll also want to reach out to the school’s financial aid office to ask questions related to financial aid vs student loans and other specifics in regards to your financial aid package

What other resources do they offer?

Different colleges and universities offer varying levels of support for students as they prepare for either entering the workforce after school or further academic engagement. You might research what resources are available to you at each school as you pursue internships during your undergraduate career and apply for jobs in your senior year. 

For instance, is there a career resource center? Is there a good advising structure and/or panel events to help inform what you’re interested in pursuing after college? If you are looking to continue going to school after undergrad, are there good resources to assist you in applying to grad schools or professional programs? A quick and easy way to gauge this is to look at any statistics released on what a school’s students tend to do after graduation.

Key takeaways and moving forward

As you now know, there are lots of factors to consider when making your college lists. Do your best to research each school thoroughly before deciding to apply. Not only will this help you prepare for interviews and supplemental essay prompts later on, but it will also increase your chances of receiving college acceptance letters. If you feel like you could benefit from professional assistance during your college search and application process, reach out to learn more about our services.