Finding your College Fit

You may have noticed through my social media posts and, if you know me personally, my constant not-complaining complaining about my flight times and hectic schedule recently. That’s because I’ve been overcome with opportunity syndrome and decided to apply for literally every program that I thought I could be accepted to and have even the most remote interest in.

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“Apply for every fly-ins you can because they’re really competitive and you won’t get into them all,” they said.

So, I did. And I got into almost all of them. I’m not complaining, because that’s pretty awesome and I’m so grateful to all of the colleges for essentially investing in me and my potential as a student at their institution. But it also left me feeling unprepared and overwhelmed as I received itineraries, flights, shuttles, host information, packing lists, and emails and emails and emails. This was on top of normal college applications and leadership positions and, of course, rigorous UHS classes. I put myself in a tricky situation of not wanting to miss more school but also not wanting to miss out on amazing opportunities.

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Writing this in Boston Logan International Airport, my journey with this is not over. But throughout this journey, I’ve learned something so essential as I’m applying to colleges: fit.

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We hear the counselors and admission reps talking about this “fit” and how important it is but I never understood it until I experienced it. I have visited 9 total institutions (University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, Prescott College, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Chicago, Franklin & Marshall College, Babson College, and soon Washington & Lee University) of varying size, type, specialty, environment, and people.

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These visits are typically very fast-paced and jam-packed. There’s a lot of information coming to you at once and it can be very  overwhelming. I’ve found that I don’t really know what I fully feel about the institution until I’ve taken a few days to let it sink in.

With that said, my gut feeling when I entered the campus has yet to be wrong. The moment you look out the window and see the first buildings and the sign saying “Welcome to ___”, you can begin to feel a host of different emotions. It may be excitement, nervousness, trepidation, adoration, admiration, distain, uneasiness, or anything in between and beyond. When I’ve had time to reflect on the institution, everything it’s offered, and my experience on the campus, my final opinion very often reflects the initial feeling I had when I stepped foot on the campus.

Although we can seldom quantify a feeling to rationalize our decision, I’ve been able to generally decide how I feel about an institution based on the following factors:

  1. Financials: If you can’t afford to go to the institution, you can’t go. It’s that simple. So, you need to make sure that the institution will give you the aid that you need. Don’t rule out out-of-state institutions or private institutions based on this factor. Oftentimes, we think because the “sticker price” of the institution is bigger, we’ll have to pay more. But frequently it’s the opposite: many private institutions and top-ranked colleges and universities will guarantee to meet 100% of your financial need, and many of these are also need blind, meaning that they don’t admit based on how much your family can contribute.
  2. Opportunities: You want to look into what opportunities the school has that will align with your personal and professional interests. For me, it’s important that there is a center for entrepreneurship, ample networking opportunities, and a culture of inclusivity, collaboration, and achievement.
  3. Curriculum: The curriculum structure for schools vary, and you may be more suited to one over another. Some have an open curriculum, meaning there aren’t a set of prerequisite classes or structured course outlines. Others are tailored to a specific major, so you must take certain classes at certain times in order to get into the classes associated with your major. Some do it on a trimester basis, and others on a semester basis. Look into the institutions’ curriculums, talk to current students about how it works, and decide what you think would work for you.
  4. Unity: The community of the college is very important, because if you attend the school you will become a part of that community. For me, finding unity within that community and seeing where and how people aggregate within that community is a big factor for whether or not I think it will be a good social fit.
  5. Setting: In addition to the community, look to the setting of the college: the environment, the nearby cities and attractions, what kind of city it is, what there is to do around the college campus, and the weather. Ask current students what they do on the weekend and where they go when they want to go off campus.

What you’re looking for in an institution will be different, and how much these five factors matter individually will also vary. I encourage you to take some time to think about what is important to you on your college journey.

To make this easier, I’ve developed a spreadsheet that can help you calculate your FOCUS Fit for each institution you’re interested in, which you can get FOCUS Fit Calculator.

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If you have any questions about college visits or finding your fit, feel free to reach out. 🙂

❤ Alicia

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