Students will frequently visit a college campus and come home saying “it just felt right.” It can be challenging to get them to understand exactly what gave them such a positive vibe, but their intuitive sense shouldn’t be ignored.
Feeling comfortable on a college campus is a key fit factor, but finding an academic fit as well as a financial fit is just as important.
To determine an academic fit, students need to:
• Research the online course catalog to see if the college under consideration meets their needs academically. They need to look at a few different majors to see if there is sufficient depth and breadth in the departments to keep them engaged for four years. A major like Women’s Studies may have only two or three professors. What happens if they don’t like the teaching style of one, or if another one leaves?
• Find out about the availability and quality of internship and research opportunities. Many universities pride themselves on their cutting-edge research. When are students likely to be able to take advantage of these opportunities? Are they reserved for graduate students?
• Understand their own learning style. Answer these questions: Would you like to be invited to a professor’s house for dinner? Do you thrive in a discussion-based environment, or are you fine being anonymous in a lecture hall?
• Examine special programs like an honors college, which is a great way to have all the advantages of a large school within a smaller environment.
• Explore the support services available such as a writing center or tutoring. These services can play a key role in a student’s academic confidence.
• Check out the Career Center. How many companies come to campus to recruit new hires? How many students are employed within six months of graduation, and how many go on to graduate school? Those numbers tell you a lot about how well students are prepared for life post-graduation.
When determining whether the college is a good financial fit, break the colleges into several groupings:
• By cost: Public in-state; public out-of-state and private. Total the tuition, room, board and books as well as student fees.
• By reach, target and safety: Recognize that students most likely will not receive merit-based aid at their dream school, but they have a much better chance of sizable aid awards at their safety schools.
• By financial aid history: Research the Princeton Review Best 373 Colleges, 2011 edition, for information on each college’s percentage of freshmen receiving need-based aid and non-need-based scholarship and grants.