Find Your Best Fit College

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.

Academic 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)?

Campus Life

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

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?

Financial Fit

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.

Many Options

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.

Getting Around Atlanta Schools

Recently we were able to visit some colleges in Atlanta.  There are 23 colleges and universities in Atlanta so learning how to get around Atlanta was a fun adventure.  We flew into Atlanta and did not have a car so we decided to try all the different ways of getting around the city.

Huge Escalator from MARTAFirst stop was the MARTA (click to see maps and schedules).  This was very easy to use, the map wasn’t hard to read.  The easiest part was that the airport is last stop so both the red and yellow lines go in the same direction and to the same stations for several stops.  It is also incredibly inexpensive: $2.50 each trip including up to 4 transfers. I had no problems with the MARTA except that it was closed on Sunday.  According to the website this isn’t normal, but it was the situation while we were there.  We found that if you wanted to go somewhere that the MARTA went to it was great, but it does not cover the entire city.  I did not get a picture of the train but here is the very long elevator leaving the station closest to our hotel.

College exploration on scooterWhile touring Georgia Tech I decided to take a break from walking and try out the electric scooters!  These scooters littered the streets of Atlanta.  In order to use one you need to download the app, attach payment and scan the scooter.  It took me a few minutes to set it up, but it wasn’t bad.  Once it’s set up it’s very quick, so subsequent trips are easy.  The rules are that you need to wear a helmet, go in bike lanes when available, and park it safely (the app gives you clear guidelines).  I can tell you that these rules are often not followed, but I am reporting what the app tells you.  The scooter really moves.  I was impressed with the speed and the amount of control that I had while driving.  Stoppping needs a little extra time so make sure you give yourself that.  After a bit of experimenting I moved on and enjoyed the gorgeous campus.

In addition we did a LOT of walking.  The city is very walkable with decent sidewalks and crosswalks.  I enjoyed seeing the city as I walked.  There were also a lot of bike lanes, and it wasn’t unusual to see bikers out and about.

On Sunday we didn’t have the ability to take the MARTA because it was closed so we used Uber to get to the airport. Living near DC I’ve used Uber often before, but it was good to see that there were several cars running when we were ready to go to the airport. Lyft is also readily available in Atlanta.

It was a great trip and fun to explore Atlanta and some of the different Universities and colleges in the area.

Will my child’s IEP follow them to college?

If you’re like most parents with a child with a 504 or IEP, you’ve spent countless hours advocating for your child to ensure they’ll succeed.  Like many, I’m sure you’re also worried about how they’ll continue to find that success in college without you advocating for them.  With support, your student can take over the role and learn how to be their own advocate, especially since their IEP or 504 plan won’t follow them to college.

While there won’t be an annual IEP meeting, case managers, or parent communication (YIKES!), there is still support for students who register as a student with a disability and provide the required documentation.  Under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, colleges are required to provide equal access to education for all students.  This may look different at different colleges.

Many colleges will have a disability services office that handles the student’s request for support.  Unlike a case manager, who is in close contact with the student and the parents, a representative from the office will write a letter stating what reasonable accommodations the school can provide.  This letter is given to the student’s professors.  From there, the student will take over, advocating for his/her own needs and making sure the accommodations are both met and making a positive difference in their college experience.

In addition to the disability services office, some schools go above and beyond to help their students succeed.  Some additional services do come with a fee, but some are included with tuition.  These helpful options range from assistive technology labs to tutoring to frequent progress reports from professors.  Several schools also focus on whole student growth with social skills and problem solving support.

Best Value Schools recently compiled a list of 20 colleges that offer the most value while catering to students with learning disabilities.  The included schools not only have higher percentages of students with disabilities, they have more complete programs in place to assist these students in their college journey.  However, if you and your child have your sights set on a state school, don’t feel like they’re out of reach.

One state school that offers a high-level of support to students with disabilities is the University of Arizona with their on-campus SALT Center.  What once started with a handful of students in the basement of a building to a large, 3-story building that houses the SALT (Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques) Center, the program provides support to hundreds of students a year.  Within the center, students can meet with tutors, access psychological services, and help develop their own individualized learning plans.  Below is a video from one of UA’s students who uses the SALT Center to help her find success in college.

As you and your student map out their future plans, encourage them to be an active part of the process.  Help them learn what their strengths and weaknesses are.  And most importantly, teach them how to advocate for themselves.  With the supports in place that they need, they will succeed in their future educational endeavors.

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