University of Virginia

The Best College for You Might Not Even Be on Your List

You’ve earned good grades, prepped hard for high SAT and ACT scores, and participated in all those extracurricular activities that your guidance counselor insisted would impress college admissions offices. The next step is coming up with a list of your top college choices and start filling out those applications.

So, how do you come up with that list? You’ve probably got a couple of schools in mind already. There are many reasons you could prefer one school over another—your parent’s suggestion, your favorite college basketball team, a specific program of study, and so on. But you need to make sure that the schools you’re seriously considering are a “good fit” for you.

Before you get ahead of yourself and start applying only to Ivy League schools, be sure to chat with your parents about your family’s college budget. If you and your parents simply cannot afford the tuition, it’s better to cross that school off your list. Otherwise, your parents will never be able to retire and you’ll never hear the end of it, or you’ll be stuck with massive student loans that take years, even decades, to pay off.

With each of the remaining schools on your list, be sure to research the academic rigor, the school culture, the social scene, available financial aid, how the professors teach (big lecture halls vs. small classes), and the characteristics the school desires in its students. Now how do these schools match up with you?

Consider this–schools that maybe you hadn’t initially considered could actually be a better fit for you. Check out schools that don’t have the big-name athletic programs or the prestige of a Harvard. Many times colleges whose name you do not recognize may be willing to offer significant financial incentives to entice you to attend if your profile matches the freshman profile of that school. The most important thing is to keep all your options open. Explore all types of colleges – in-state, out-of-state, public, private, large and small. By getting to know the pros and cons of each, you’ll be able to figure out what characteristics are most important to you.