Growing up you are told that there is one perfect college out there that will meet all of your needs. All you have to do find the perfect college. If you use a really great college search engine, plug in all of the things you are looking for, and then visit each school, one of them will be the perfect fit. The dorms will be huge, the cafeteria food will be beyond compare, and they will offer you an excellent financial aid package. All that will be left will be to sign on the dotted line.
In reality, that’s probably not the case.
Can You Actually Find the Perfect College? The Reality of That
There may be one college that is the best fit for you, but chances are it will not be “perfect”. You might spend ages researching, visiting, and applying to schools to find the perfect college. If you are lucky enough to find the one that feels like home and meets your needs, go for it! Having said that, there is no such thing as a perfect college, and you can still be successful despite that.
Finding the right college is all about prioritizing which factors are most important to you. The chances of finding a college that will check every single one of your boxes is slim to none. So hunker down, and make a list of what it is that you are really looking for. What can you absolutely not live without? What are you willing to give up?
Grab a pencil and piece of paper (or a laptop) and start comparing your potential schools. Don’t know where to begin? That’s okay, I’ve listed 3 important factors here for you. They are what I found to be the most important during my search, hopefully, they will help you too.
1. The Campus
Always, always, always visit the school! It is okay to apply first to see if you will be accepted, but when you are narrowing down your choices, make sure you have actually set foot on campus and seen the school for yourself.
Some students will have that magical moment… You are visiting with your parents, you turn onto campus on a crisp fall day, the landscaping is impeccable, and the world of academia is sprawled out ahead of you. In that moment, you feel like you have finally arrived home. My moment happened when I walked into the library. I never wanted to leave.
Unfortunately, it is not usually that simple–my moment happened as a transfer student.
When you visit a college take note of the overall atmosphere, but also the location and distance between buildings. Is it located in a rural, suburban, or urban area? If you are someone who is always out and about, floating between the mall, movie theater, and downtown scene, check out the surrounding area. You might be living on campus, but that does not mean you are stuck there.
Ask around and see where the best place to get a late-night caffeine fix is. Where do students spend most of their time studying? Perhaps most importantly, how far will you be traveling from your front door to the buildings your classes are located in? That distance can either be a beautiful walk in the fall or a treacherous, snowy trek during the winter.
Check out the dorms. Sample the dining center food. See what student groups are offered on campus. Visit a class. Meet with a professor. Talk to a current student. If you can see yourself living there for four years, it just might be home.
2. Academic Opportunities
Contrary to what popular culture says, the most important part of college is not friends or parties or whatever else–it’s the education you receive. The other parts are great too, but it’s important to remember why you came to college in the first place. And it is impossible for a college to be perfect for you if they do not offer the major(s) you are interested in–end of the story.
If you are applying as a freshman with an undecided major, it is 100% okay to not know what you want to study. You are actually part of the majority. Make sure you choose a college that offers a wide array of options when it comes to declaring your major(s) and/or minor(s). You have the time to explore different classes. Register for something you have never done before. Have some fun. Eventually, you will figure it out.
What a school has to offer for academics does not stop with their programs of study. Something else to consider is the supports the college has in place to help you be successful. For those with IEPs or 504 plans, make sure you meet with someone in Student Disability Services during your visits! They will have the answers to all your questions concerning accommodations and modifications. Many colleges have student-run writing and speaking centers. Find out if there are tutors available on campus. Seek out the tools you need to be successful.
The bottom line is, can the school offer you the academic experiences you want? In order to answer this, you have to do a bit of self-reflection and brainstorming. For example, if the perfect school, for you, allows you to work on your own research project or team up with a professor, find somewhere that is common practice.
One of the best ways to get your foot in the door in an industry is through the completion of an internship. Is this something you are willing to put the effort in to set up on your own, or would you prefer to have a coordinator within the college take care of all the details for you?
The academic culture of a school is something you, as a student, do not have much control over. So your perfect school will meet your needs, you just have to ask the right questions to make sure what they offer matches what you want.
3. Financial Aid Package
You have gone through the whole process of talking to admissions reps, applying, visiting, social media creeping, and self-reflecting. You’ve recycled more brochures and “come to our awesome college” pamphlets than you thought could possibly exist. And, you have made it to nearly the end of this article. As with most things in life, the final decision comes down to the money.
Saying “Yes!” to the school should not happen if the financial aid isn’t there. The perfect school for you will be able to provide you with a financial aid package that meets your needs.
The campus might give you that “love at first sight” feeling, the course offerings might be spot on and exciting to you, but unfortunately if the money isn’t there, your perfect school isn’t actually perfect…
The last thing you need while in college is to add to the stress of the pile of assignments you are worried about getting turned in on time and grades you receive on exams by also having to worry about how to pay your tuition bill each semester or how much debt you’ll have to pay off later.
The good news is that this part of the package is often time negotiable. So, if you think a college might be your perfect fit, but the money isn’t there to make it a reality, don’t be afraid to ask for more.
Once you are admitted, you have the power, and one of the greatest lessons you can learn in life is to not be afraid of asking questions.