How to Assess Your “Fit” for a College

Johnson Hall with a fountain in front on a spring day.

Whenever I think about the topic of “fit,” I always think about the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks kept testing things like porridge and beds until she found one that was “just right.” Luckily for her, she only had three to choose from.

There are more than 4,500 colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning in the United States. Even if you’re a North Carolinian and are looking to remain in our beloved Old North State, you still have nearly 60 public and private institutions to choose from, and this doesn’t include the network of 58 community colleges in the N.C. Community College System. So, how can you possibly find the one that is “just right” when there are so many options? You can start by keeping it simple and focusing on four major areas.

Academic and Career Implications

Obviously, you’ll want to make sure that the college you ultimately choose has the major you’re interested in. But, what if you’re undecided? Or, what if Plan A doesn’t pan out? You’ll certainly want an institution that gives you a range of options that span across multiple disciplines.

Second, think beyond your undergraduate experience. Want to go to graduate school? Ask about placement rates. For example, Meredith’s pre-health post-baccalaureate certificate has over a 90% acceptance rate to health professional schools. Are you going to need recommendations from faculty to get into the graduate school of your choice? Then you’ll want to be at a school that’s large enough to support you but small enough for you to develop close relationships with faculty.

Leadership Opportunities

Whether you are interested in clubs, sports, volunteering, or other student organizations, every college/university has opportunities to get involved. Where there is a group to join, though, there is a need for leaders.

Of course, a larger university will have more clubs and organizations than a smaller one. But, it can sometimes be harder to advance to a leadership role at a large university with so much competition. Small to mid-sized colleges and universities are often more successful at finding leadership opportunities for students, not only because of sheer numbers, but also because faculty and staff who have close relationships with their students are in a better position to give them a gentle nudge towards roles that may be a good fit. Do you want to be able to show your potential future employer that you know how to lead a group of people? Consider which institutions on your list are best equipped to help you do just that.

Social Life

While academics and internships may be your number one priority over the next four years (or fewer), let’s face it … you want to have fun, too. After all, higher education research has consistently shown that academic performance is strongly correlated with co-curricular student involvement.

As you’ve probably already noticed, college social scenes can vary wildly. Some have 40,000 students, and some have 400. Some are surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the big city, and others are surrounded by peace, quiet, and farmland. Ask yourself a few questions to help you narrow things down. “Do I always want something going on, or do I appreciate a little peace and quiet? Would I prefer some of both? Am I more likely to make deep, lasting friendships when I’m surrounded by a few hundred or several thousand students? Do I eventually want to move off-campus, making the housing aspect less important anyway?”

I always say that Meredith students have the best of both worlds. While they can start and end every day on a small campus where “everybody knows your name,” they can also participate in the Cooperating Raleigh Colleges program, which allows them to take courses at other Raleigh universities (at no extra cost) and experience student life at places like NC State, Shaw, William Peace, St. Augustine’s, and Wake Tech. No more Fear Of Missing Out here!

Health and Wellness

Finally, the importance of taking care of yourself in this new stage of independence in your life can’t be understated. Colleges and universities are working hard to provide strong counseling and wellness programs to help students remain healthy and be successful.

If you are a student who has previously taken advantage of professional counseling or disability accommodations, look into the counseling and disability services provided by the colleges on your shortlist. If desired, you can even meet some of the counselors during tours or enrollment events. In addition, counselors can help greatly with all sorts of challenges often encountered by college students such as improving relationships with partners or roommates, enhancing self-esteem, and surviving loss and grief.

Finally, is exercise important to you? If so, check out the fitness facilities and grounds. Map out where you might run. Find out what kind of activity classes are offered, both for credit and for fun. Whatever you do, just don’t neglect the importance of taking care of yourself.

Don’t Look for “Perfect”

Remember, there’s no such thing as the “perfect fit.” With more than 4,500 institutions to choose from, there are so many out there at which you’ll absolutely thrive. Even if there are only a few at which you can see yourself, know that there will be things you love and don’t love about each. At the end of the day, go back to the four major areas above and see which institution seems to check the most boxes. If, after digging deeper, you find that one college in particular sets you up best for academic, career, leadership, social, and health success, then you might have just found your (almost) “perfect fit.”

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