How to Find Your Best Fit College

It’s mid-December and the admits are rolling in for our seniors. By the end of this month, several early applicants will likely be juggling multiple offers of admission. Other seniors are still finalizing the list of schools to which they will submit their applications. Our juniors are just beginning their college searches. Whether you’re deciding where to send your application or which admit offer to accept, you need to think about which school is the best fit for you.

Academic Fit

In order to determine which college is your best academic fit, start with your potential major. If you want to study marine biology, then consider colleges that have great marine biology programs. If you want to major in creative writing, then it’s a good idea to research which colleges have a department that aligns with your style.

But most 17-year-olds have no idea what they want to do for the rest of their lives, let alone what they want to immerse themselves in for the next four years. If this is you, that’s okay! There are still plenty of ways to examine how a school fits you academically.

You don’t have to only look at what departments or professors a school offers; also pay close attention to the school’s academic philosophy. Will you be required to take a series of core requirements or is there an open curriculum? Do you find core requirements burdensome, or are you overwhelmed by the lack of structure in an open curriculum? The answer will be different for everyone.

Some colleges explicitly articulate their most important principles, also a great factor to look at when considering academic fit. Do Pitzer’s Core Values resonate with you? Is the Ursinus Quest speaking your language? Many schools have distinctive approaches to their academics that you may love or you may hate.

Social Fit

“Social fit” can be an umbrella term for anything non-academic. Are you looking for Greek Life, school spirit, and Division 1 sports? Do you want a tight-knit community where you will know almost everyone by the time you graduate? Are you hoping for a rural setting where you can easily interact with Mother Nature, or do you want an urban feel where you can hop on public transit and explore your city?

You are about to spend the next four years of your life living somewhere. If you don’t like where you live, you will not maximize your potential in other aspects of your life, including academics. Your campus’ social fit matters. Spend time thinking about what you want out of your evenings and weekends so that you can make the most out of your non-classroom time too.

Financial Fit

I usually hear about best “financial fit” first from parents, but this should also be a consideration for students. If you find a college that is a perfect academic fit and an ideal social fit but you can’t afford it, then it’s likely not the best fit school for you.

Be conscious of how much debt is acceptable to you once you’ve graduated college. Are you okay with taking out a loan to finance a car? Then you should also be okay with applying for loans to help finance your college education. But in the same way that you wouldn’t take out a car loan for more money than you can reasonably handle every month, you should not over-extend yourself on your college loan responsibilities. 

Instead, look at colleges that meet 100% of demonstrated financial need, or places where you will qualify for large non-need-based scholarships. It’s essential to build a list that includes some perfect financial fits so that you aren’t stuck with only unaffordable options.

All three types of fit work in concert with each other. Maybe you’re willing to stretch financially for the college that has the best program in your ideal major; or maybe you’re willing to sacrifice a specific major in order to graduate with no college debt. You’ll only know if you take the time to reflect and clearly articulate the factors that matter to you. 

Try listing out the specific academic, social and financial pros and cons for each of your schools. It may soon become clear which college(s) fit you best. And if you need help making sense of that list, turn to an expert like your college counselor. 

Learn more about Penguin Hall’s four-year College Counseling Program.