High school students across the country are beginning their college search. But finding the right school for you can be a long process. There are so many factors ranging from location to scholarship money, majors, athletics, and everything in between. The most important thing is choosing a college that best suits your personality and one that will provide you with the college experience you are looking for. Be sure to stay true to you and do what will make you happy in the long run, regardless of what others are doing. Around this time of year students begin to feel pressure to narrow down their lists of potential schools, especially those who are juniors and seniors. They may be getting insight and input from a college advisor, teachers, parents, and friends. While their opinions certainly matter, it is important not to lose sight of what you want in a school or what you want to get out of the college experience. These are the steps to finding the right college fit for you.
Set realistic goals
Set realistic goals and stick to them, but don't be afraid to branch out. Apply to the schools at the top of your list. There is no harm in trying and exploring all of your options. However, it's important to have a back-up plan—there's no shame in having one! (Tip: apply to schools closer to home in case your initial plan does not pan out.) But it's also important to dream big and not limit yourself in your college search. If given the opportunity and financial aid, do not stray from your idea of an enjoyable college experience.
Decide what type of student you want to be
Ask yourself: do I want to be “a big fish in a small pond” or “a small fish in a big pond”? School size is important to take into consideration when applying to college. Some students thrive at larger public universities. They enjoy the freedom it gives them and the opportunities to become involved in various clubs and organizations. Other students prefer smaller private universities with intimate classroom settings. These schools provide them with more one-on-one time with their professors and opportunities to lead on campus. This philosophy also applies to athletics. For those who dream of being a student-athlete, choose a school where you have the best chance to succeed both athletically and academically. (Tip: competing at the college level does not always mean Division I, II, III, or even NCAA sports. There are countless opportunities to participate in intramural and club sports at every university. Do not limit yourself or think of these as lesser opportunities.) Everyone has to find the right fit for them, so choose a setting that will make you the most comfortable.
Factor in your future career
Consider what you want to do in college and what career you want to pursue after college. What is the purpose of you attending a particular school? Does your top school offer your intended major? Are you applying for a specific program, or are you simply looking for a good overall education? These are all questions you should ask yourself when determining if you would fit in at a certain school. (Tip: it's also important to remember that you do not have to attend a "big name" school in order to make a name for yourself. College is only what you make of it.) Every school has something different to offer, so be open minded, and once again, explore all of your options.
Account for your financial needs
Remember that financial aid plays a major role in choosing the college you will attend. You need to be realistic about the cost of college and if you are able to afford to go to a particular school. (Tip: jump on all scholarship opportunities. College is expensive, and every little bit counts toward your education. There are merit-based scholarships, company scholarships, athletic scholarships, etc. that can be used in combination with financial aid.) For aspiring student-athletes, keep in mind that most do not receive full scholarships. In fact, Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships at all. With that said, don't let the cost of college discourage you. Work hard now so you have less stress about choosing the right college later.
Choose a place you fit
Choose a place that you can see yourself spending the next four-plus years. The goal is not to simply go to college, but to leave with a degree. Don't settle to please others, and begin the college search process early so you can attend the college of your choice. This is your future, and it is what you make of it.
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