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When students initially begin their college search process, many of them turn to national and international rankings. While this can be a great place to begin, school research also shouldn’t end here. Where you, as a student, choose to spend your next four years should not just come down to the rank and “name brand” of a school, but rather, which school is the best fit for you. So, how do you identify which school or schools may be your best fit?
The first step is to think about what you want for your college experience. What are your priorities and what opportunities do you know you want to take advantage of in college? A few things you could consider:
Location. Do you imagine yourself in the bustling city, on an idyllic rural campus, or somewhere in between in a charming college town? A university’s location profoundly impacts its character and student life, so it’s an important consideration.
Size. Similarly, the size of a university – whether it has 4,000 students or 40,000 students – will impact your experience because it affects class size, access to professors, and resources available to you as a student.
Academic offerings. If you know what you want to study, it’s important to make sure that the university offers that subject as a major. Even if you’re not sure of the academic path you want to pursue, you should check that the university offers subjects that you’re interested in exploring, and that there’s flexibility in trying a few different options before deciding.
Extracurricular opportunities. Are you an avid equestrian? Or do you love writing and performing original poetry? Make sure the school offers opportunities to continue activities that you love outside of the classroom (or even that it has activities that you’ve always wanted to try, but have never had the chance to!)
Once you’ve identified what you’re looking for in a college, you can begin the process of school research. There are several different ways to begin learning about schools.
Visiting colleges. College visits can give you a better sense of what a college offers and what the campus and student life are like. Scheduling a tour, sitting in on classes, and speaking to current students are all great ways to learn more about the college during your visit.
Exploring colleges online. School websites and social media feeds are also a great way to learn more about a university, especially if you can’t visit the campus. Many schools have a feature where you can take a virtual tour on their website. You can also read up about campus clubs and organisations, visit the websites of different academic departments to learn more about their courses and majors, and check out student blogs to get a better sense of student life. Following colleges on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat will also give you regular updates about what’s happening on campus.
Talking to alumni and current students. Speaking with past and current students can give you an insider’s perspective on a college, and help you determine whether it’s the right fit for you. When talking to students, you can ask about why they chose this college, what they most enjoy, and if there’s anything they would change about the school.
Armed with this information, you’re now ready to move beyond the rankings, and dive into your college research as you identify which schools are the best fit for you, and tailor your unique college list.
Katherine Ernst Mehta is CEO and Founder of Edvanta College Tours & Consulting, which works with international high-school students seeking admission to US universities. She first came from the US to India for research, and now lives in Delhi. You can reach her on Twitter at @EdvantaCo. Previous instalments of her 12-part series on US college admissions are here.