If you’re in the middle of your college search, you probably have one huge question: “Out of all the thousands of colleges in the world, which one is the best fit for me?”
Traditionally, our society emphasizes two approaches to answering this question. One is the “true love” approach: there’s one school out there that’s going to be perfect for you. All you have to do is find that one school, and suddenly you’ll know that’s where you’re supposed to be. Stars will streak across the sky and purple glitter will rain from giant glitter clouds, and perhaps a choir will burst into song. You can’t miss the signs.
Of course, some of you probably have experience with the second approach, which is a bit like an arranged marriage: 15 years ago, before you’d even had your first nap time in kindergarten, someone picked your college for you. Sweatshirts. Water bottles. Maybe even a tattoo. Even if your situation isn’t this extreme, chances are you know someone who wants you to attend a particular school.
Both approaches have flaws. For instance, the “true love” approach is just like true love in romantic comedies: if you want to be happy in the long term, your true love needs to last. Consider this: that school that has you infatuated right now? It costs twice as much as another school you like, and that could mean a lifetime of debt. That school that seems too good to be true? Students there take classes taught by assistants, not by professors. Will you still be in love when the hard part of the relationship begins?
The arranged marriage approach has a serious flaw, too: it might not be your choice. After all, you’re the one who has to take the classes, live in the residence hall and talk to the professors. You’re the one who will spend four years or more in the college community. So is your college making you happy, or is it making the people you know happy?
All this comes down to one big point that should be your first step in any discussion about college fit: you need to decide who you are and what makes you tick before you decide which school is best for you.
- What makes you truly happy?
- What’s your learning style?
- What classes do you love? What classes do you hate?
- Your favorite teacher: what makes that teacher special?
- What activities and hobbies define you?
- What does “value” mean to you?
Because here’s the truth: you can have fun at almost any college. You’ll meet amazing, brilliant people everywhere in the world. But if you’re choosing a school that emphasizes research when you really want close mentorships with your professors, you’re setting yourself up for heartache. If you need an internship to help land your dream job but you choose a school that isn’t close to a large city, you’re making your dream harder to achieve.
In the end, choosing a college isn’t always about the college. It’s about discovering who you are, determining what you want to do after college and finding a place that helps you make it happen.