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Finding the Best Fit

Authored by: Hailee Shehu

October 14, 2020

If you’re in your junior or senior year of high school, you’re probably researching a variety of schools in hopes to figure out how to choose the ones you like and ultimately apply to during senior fall. There are a lot of factors that you should consider in your college search, which will be explained in this article. Determine which of these considerations are most important to you and prioritize those as you look at colleges.

Academic Landscape: This is probably the most important question to ask yourself: does this school offer the major you're interested in? If you know what you want to do and the school doesn’t offer that, it should be taken off of your list. If you’re undecided, consider liberal arts schools or schools that offer a wide variety of majors. Talk to representatives at college fairs and undergraduate students to get a feel for what the school has to offer academically.

Curriculum: Some schools have what is called a core curriculum, such as UChicago and Columbia University in the City of New York, where you are required to take certain classes no matter what your major is. On the other end of the spectrum, an open curriculum, such as that offered by Brown University and Hamilton College, allows you to direct your own course plan and choose more of your own classes. Some open curriculum schools often prompt students to create their own majors! And, smack dab in the middle is the distributional curriculum, offered by schools such as Yale University and MIT, in which students have a set of requirements to fulfill before graduation; however, they can choose what types of classes they wish to take. For example, a humanities requirement can be fulfilled by anything ranging from Myth and Art in Greek Antiquity (one of the more popular courses at Yale) to inequalities of east asian countries (another very popular humanities course).

Here are some examples of Columbia's and Brown's philosophies towards undergraduate education:

Location: This is something that can so often be overlooked. Are you from warm, sunny California but is looking at a school in the northeast? This will be a huge adjustment, going from spending your time at beaches and pools to dealing with long, snowy winters. Also, do you want to be that far away from home? If neither of these things bother you, then go right ahead! But definitely ask yourself these questions while considering a school in a new location.

Class Sizes: Do you want to be at a school with only 20 students in a class where you get to know your professor better? Or would you rather learn in lecture halls of 300 students? Even at large schools, do they offer small seminar classes or is the ratio of lecture hall teaching to seminar classes bigger?

Graduation Rate and Career Services: Research the graduation rates and career outcomes of a school. Seeing the percentage of students who graduated with a job offer can help you really learn a lot about what you can expect for yourself after graduation at that school. Additionally, look at the school’s graduate, medical, and law school acceptance rates for undergraduates. Do these schools have a high percentage of students receiving graduate school admissions? Plan out what you want to do after college and see if that particular school has what you are looking for.

Cost: The cost of a school is so much more than just tuition. In fact, tuition is often only 50% or 60% of the whole COA (cost of attendance). You would have to consider room and board, books, travel, etc. Pro tip: See if a school meets 100% of demonstrated financial need. If you know that you’re going to need a lot of aid to afford college, this is definitely something to look for in a school and can usually be calculated through the school’s financial aid calculator, which is available on their websites.

Clubs/Sports/Other Organizations Offered: If you’re like me and love being involved, you should look at the clubs and organizations that a school offers. Some schools have really unique organizations that may excite you, and this could even be something you can mention in the “Why Us?” essay that a fair amount of schools ask.

Housing: All residence halls are NOT the same. Colleges usually offer singles, doubles, triples, or suites, so learn the style of the dorms at the schools you’re interested in. Also, learn about their dining halls and offerings in the residential buildings. Remember that you’re going to be living here for four years, so make sure you love it!

There is so much to think about when trying to choose which school is right for you, but these are just some of the things that have been very important to me while researching schools. The best way to find what you need in a school is to research, whether that’s looking on their website, talking to students, visiting the school, attending information sessions, etc. There are so many opportunities to learn about each school you’re thinking about, so take advantage of it!

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