James G. Nondorf
Vice President of Enrollment and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid
The University of Chicago
This is really the million-dollar question, and, of course, there’s no succinct answer. Sometimes I like to tell prospective students to think of it this way: you’re not just deciding where to go to school, you’re essentially looking for a new home for four years. So consider all the things that make for a good home: the neighborhood and the community, the place and the people in it. Ask yourself: What groups and organizations are most active on campus? What is dorm life like? What opportunities are available in the surrounding city or town? And—perhaps most of all—what are the students and professors passionate about, and what drives the intellectual community? These are the people with whom you will be sharing your new home. And remember: admission officers are here to help you in your search for the right college. Feel free to reach out.
Colleges That Change Lives
You should be trying to choose for the “best fit” for you and your background: How do you best learn (size and type of classes and instruction)? What community of learners would you like to surround yourself with (competitive, relaxed, academic, social, athletic, etc.)? What would you be most disappointed about not being able to do in college (not just the academic choices)? Think about how two friends with the exact same academic record can visit a college and one will fall in love with it and the other will hate it—that is what the fit piece is all about! The most frustrating part about doing the college search to find a good fit is that it does take a lot of time and you have to schedule the time to do it—just like other activities in your life. If you take the time to research your choices bygoing to the college website and really spending an hour reading about campus and student blogs, visiting the campus, meeting with college reps when they come to your school or in information sessions in your city, finding other students in your area who are students/alumni to ask their opinion, and reviewing financial aid and merit scholarship offers to be sure you can afford the college, it will most often become clear which is the right choice. Some students walk on to a campus and after only a few minutes they are able to say, “I found the college I love!” and that has a lot to do with a gut feeling about a place. It's important to pay attention to that feeling, even if it is hard to articulate!
Higher Educational Consultants Association (HECA)
The best way to find a college that will be a good fit is to know thyself. This means taking time to think about what kind of student you are, what kind of environment you want to live in, and who you want to go to school with. This type of self-exploration and growth will help you to choose the school that will fit you not only academically, but socially, spiritually, and physically as well.
For more answers to important college admission questions, scope out our Ask the Experts section!