What is Best Fit?
As you’re starting to research institutes of higher education you’ll start to hear the words “best fit” thrown around. What does that actually mean? How do you go about finding a school that fits you well? Where do I start in this college search process?
First, a best fit school is a school a college, university, or program of learning that will meet your academic, physical, financial, social, and emotional needs. This isn’t a quick evaluation, it includes research, visiting the school, and evaluating your own wants and needs. Many questions you want to ask yourself are grouped below. Some of these questions will be very important to you and others will be small considerations compared to the rest. Perfect fit is unlikely, most things in life aren’t perfect, but if you evaluate and research these options you will find a great fit.
Matching your academic needs to a school is perhaps the most straightforward of the group. Here are some questions to ask as you evaluate each university. Does a school have a program for the area I want to study? Is the program highly regarded? What hands on experience does this program offer to undergraduates? What are the average class sizes in my major? Am I able to take some electives or have a minor that interests me? Will the work be challenging enough or too challenging at this institution? What is the career track for students in my field after graduation? Along with researching information it’s also great if you can ask students on campus how they feel about their classes and many colleges will allow you to sit in on a class (this will need to be pre-arranged).
Campus Location and Layout
The next part to think about is they physical campus. Some of this can be need based, especially if you need specific accessibility on campus, but often this is more about what makes you excited about or comfortable on a campus. What do you feel you need to have near or on campus? What do you want to have nearby? Do you prefer to be in the middle of a city or in a more suburban area? How small or large of a campus are you hoping for? Do you want to live on campus all 4 years, are you hoping to live off campus at some point or right away? Do you like seasons or specific weather? Do you like a particular region of the country (or world if you’re thinking internationally)?
Social needs and desires are an important part of the college experience. Many students are on their own and making decisions without additional input for the first time. Ask yourself some of these questions as you search for your best fit school from the social side of things. Are you looking for a small campus where it’s easy to get to know a lot of people and you’ll run into friends every where you go by the end of Freshman year? Are you looking for a college with a lot of school spirit, a big sports scene? Are you interested in Greek life? Do you want a school where you can participate in activities like theater and art without majoring in it? Are you looking to participate in club or intramural sports? Are you from a small town or big city? How much of a change do you desire? Will you be comfortable making a big leap from your current comfort zone? This segues nicely into emotional needs.
Emotional needs can be vitally important and are often ignored while making a decision. Start by evaluating where you live and where you have lived. Most people have a comfort zone for space, busyness, diversity, weather, distance from family, etc. How much can you stretch this comfort zone without it snapping? How far should you move from your current family and friends? How different can the environment be while allowing you to feel at home there?
The final piece of the best fit puzzle is finding a good financial fit. It is important to know not only the type of program and school you’re looking for, but also evaluate ahead of time how much you can afford to spend on college. How much is your family’s EFC (Expected Family Contribution)? Do you see your family contributing that amount to college each year? Do you have ways of earning money between now and then? Is this school out of reach financially or reasonable? Do not get your heart set on a school that you can’t afford. It is OK to apply and see if they give you the aid you hope for, but don’t count on it and be open to other opportunities. Also think carefully about your debt load. How much will you have to pay once you’re out of school? Will your future career support that amount of debt? What if you don’t get the higher paying job you’re hoping for directly out of college and have to work your way up, can you afford to live and pay off the loans? It’s not that all loans are bad, but be very wary about the amount of student debt you acquire.
Keep in mind your future goals. Most jobs hire from a variety of collegiate backgrounds. Is the college you’re considering a place where you think you can make life long friendships? Will it set you up for future success? If so, then you are on the right track.