Deciding on the right college match is a lot like dating. As you meet this person and start to learn more about them, you begin to pick up on the things you like about them, things you might dislike, their personality, their quirks, your level of attraction to them, and things you do or don’t have in common. Over time, you may come to realize that they aren’t quite the right fit for you or you may just find your perfect match. Searching for and finding the right college is quite similar.
Rarely do people meet and instantly know they are the perfect match. It takes time spent together, learning more about each other, and having good conversations to understand if your values, mindset, and dreams align. The college search is no different. It takes time to research schools, go on visits, talk with faculty, staff and alumni, all while evaluating the school and yourself to see if it could be a good match.
So, as you begin the “College Dating” process, what should you be looking for?
Learn what a particular college’s ideal student looks like. Learn about the culture of the school and what the overall experience would be like. School and class size, the town that the college is located in and whether it’s a big sports school are just some of the factors that could affect this. The best way to really learn this is to talk to current students and alumni. If you choose this school, you’ll be in their shoes. Nothing replaces an in person visit.
Values and Mindset
Just like in dating, discovering what someone values is possibly the most important part of who they are. The same is true of a college or university. What they value says a lot about the type of experience and education you’ll get from that institution. How are those things displayed…?
Is it a more conservative or liberally minded school? Do they purposefully keep class sizes small for more individualized attention or do they allow class sizes to become much bigger with a more independent approach? Do they pour time and resources into campus life and the physical campus itself? These are just a few things to think about.
Values and mindset are obviously the most important factors, but let’s don’t forget how important attraction is too. Do you want to go out with someone who you don’t find attractive, that doesn’t take care of their self? Of course not! The same is true of a college. First impressions aren’t everything, but can be quite telling. How does the campus look? Is it well kept? Are the facilities nice? Does the campus make a good first impression? This is why campus visits are vital in finding your college match.
Strengths and Weaknesses
No one is perfect and everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses – as do all colleges. One of the main points of strength or weakness for a school is what majors they offer and how they help students in their careers post grad. The things to look at around this are: What percent of students graduate in 4 years or less? What is the school’s track record for student employment post-grad? What majors do they offer?
Make sure to ask for specific stats based on the US Department of Education’s standards or find this information online. There are plenty of other strengths and weaknesses to explore, but we feel these are some of the most vital to look at.
Remember: Weaknesses will always be there. Just make sure to explore those and ensure they’re not deal breakers for you in the long run.
When it comes to this point in the process of looking at schools, you want to find out what type of academic mindset the school has. For example: Are they research focused or professionally focused? What is the personality of the school? An example: 85-90% of Vanderbilt’s student population are planning to pursue another degree in the professional realm right out of undergrad. Things like, law school, medical school or a master’s in another field. If you know that you’re really only focused on a Bachelor’s degree for the foreseeable future, this may not be the right fit for you.
Another example is how they approach learning. Is it a competitive or a synergistic approach? For example: Illinois and Purdue are both great engineering options. However, Illinois is about “survival of the fittest” where Purdue has a “we’re all in this together” approach. Knowing yourself and what you’re looking for from your education is crucial to know what environment you would thrive in.
Likes / Dislikes
As you’re getting to know someone, you want to find out if you like at least some of the same things. As you’re figuring out the right school, you have to think through this too. Is Greek life important to you? What about sports? Do you want to be involved in a certain organization? Do you want to be located in a certain place? Also, think about the inverse. If you know for a fact there’s something you WILL NOT like, (like a huge emphasis on Greek life), that may not be a good fit either. These are important things to consider as they could affect your overall experience and happiness for the next 4 years.
Everyone and every school has quirks. Think through them and make sure you’re ok with them or if they’re a deal breaker. Some examples: Bad parking situations, spread out campus requiring a lot of walking, or the registration process is bad. These are things to think about and more importantly – ASK about!
Remember: the goal is a 4 year relationship with this school. Doing thorough research and picking the right school the first time is important. Why? If you get into the experience and find yourself surprised and wanting to transfer, it can quickly turn into a 6 year college process and drive costs up significantly.
You won’t like everything about every college, just like you won’t like everything about someone you’re dating. What’s important, is to find the most important traits to you, for your future and not budging on those things. Evaluate what you can live with and what you can’t live without – just like in a person.
To help you through the process, we’ve put together a template that will help you sort through the strengths and weaknesses of each school you’re looking at and plan to visit. Just shoot us a message and we’ll send it right over to you!