Questions to Ask in Your College Search

The following piece was written by Liz Perelstein. Liz has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is the Founder of School Choice International.

The New Year is a time that many students start thinking about developing school lists and touring colleges. As with any school choice, for the combined purposes of a successful college career and getting accepted, we suggest that you, as a student, concentrate on fit rather than name brands. There are many components to achieving the right fit and all of them should be considered in order to identify the type of school that is right for you. Here are some factors to think about as you evaluate schools to put on your list.

1. What academic subjects have inspired you and motivate you to want to take more of them? When you investigate colleges, make sure that those you consider have an adequate number of courses in these areas to allow you to develop a depth of knowledge.

2. What subjects have interested you in high school that you have not been able to investigate sufficiently – that you would like an opportunity to explore in college? 

3. What are the school’s requirements? Will you spend a year or two taking courses that don’t interest you at the expense of those you really want? Conversely, if a school has no requirements, do you feel you might benefit from greater structure? How do the AP or IB credits you accumulate affect your ability to place out of certain requirements?

4. Do you prefer living in a city, a suburb, or a rural community? If you have only experienced one or two of these, are there things you can’t imagine giving up, or would you like to explore a different way of life?

5. Do you thrive in large lecture classes or small discussion classes? Do you value ongoing dialogue with peers and faculty? Do you want opportunities to get to know your professors outside of the classroom? Or do you want a greater number of course and extracurricular options?

6. How do you feel about playing on the team, participating in the play, or joining the music program? Do you prefer a school with a wider range of offerings even if participating in these programs is competitive? If you are an athlete, do you want a big name school where you may sit on the bench or a less known school where you will get to play regularly?

7. Do you have financial constraints? What are the financial aid guidelines, and what is the overall price including courses, living expenses, and books? Does the school award merit scholarships? Is there sports-based financial aid? Also, take into account the cost of living in a particular location.

8. Is it important to you to be able to drive home, or are you comfortable with a school at a far distance from home? If you are happy to fly back and forth, do you care how close you are to an airport? Think not only about your ability to get home for vacation, but also about whether you want family to come to see you in sporting events, theater, concerts, or Mock Trial.

9. Do you want a college that prepares you to start a career immediately after graduation or do you value a liberal arts curriculum? Does the school offer an internship/externship program providing contacts for your short and long term career exploration? If you want to be a Liberal Arts major, you may not want a school that emphasizes Engineering; if you want to be an Engineer, you may not want a school that focuses on Liberal Arts. 

10. Do you need any special support – medical, handicapped accessibility, language, learning support, or a peer group of those who come from a country/culture outside the U.S.?

When friends and family come up with specific lists of colleges, you may find it difficult to deviate from the names suggested by them. Considering what will work for you is not only about your academic record and test scores – or whether or not you will be accepted. Exploring schools, online and during your tours, is most beneficial if you ask yourself the aforementioned questions to identify if the schools meet your own needs, academic and otherwise. These questions will help focus your college search and enable you to choose options in which you will have a positive experience. 

Attend information sessions offered at your school – not only for colleges you have heard about, but perhaps more importantly, schools that you know little about. Broaden your horizons. When you explore colleges this way, you will often find that the schools that interest you most are the ones where you will be accepted. This is because admissions committees look for evidence of fit, as well as students who understand themselves and know why they are applying to their school. Many candidates think about the admissions process as a means to an end, but acceptance itself doesn’t get you through four years or prepare you for what you want to do afterwards. Design your college search to give you an experience where you will grow and thrive, explore, and develop skills that will get you to your longer-term goals.

Visit School Choice International for more information.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.