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When beginning the college search process, one of the scariest things is trying to find schools where you will actually be happy. It is easy to glorify certain schools (whether they be places family members/friends went, ivies, the school where everybody your high school seems to go, or basically any school you hold in high regard). Accordingly, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking they will be a perfect fit for you and similarly where you will be happiest. This very well may be the case, but it also may not be. And that is why we have this article, to help you to begin thinking about what will make you happiest. While what is important to you will vary, here is a guide based on the three things that are often some of the most important factors for people.

Size

I cannot emphasize this one enough. Size will have an impact on every aspect of your college experience from housing options to class sizes to even how competitive leadership opportunities are. There are lots of perks to schools of a range of sizes, but it comes down to what you feel comfortable with. If you live near some colleges, I recommend visiting schools of a range of sizes to get a better feel of what you feel most comfortable/happy at.

Location

This essentially comes down to urban vs. suburban vs. rural and geography. It may turn out that you don’t care about location, but it can also be very important to you. Location will most impact you when considering internship and volunteer opportunities, things to do, and also traveling to school (it is much easier to get to your school if you are near a major airport). As for geography, think about weather (if you hate snow, New England schools probably aren’t for you) and also distance from home. When factoring in location, tours can always be helpful, but a lot can be determined just from self-reflection and talking to peers/mentors that know you well.

Academics

It sounds obvious enough, but it is easy to forget about the academics. If you are fairly sure of the major you plan to pursue (or have it narrowed down to a few), the first thing you should do when researching the school is check to make sure they actually offer the major. Furthermore, try to talk to current students who are in classes similar to what you will be taking. Ask questions that relevant for you. For example if you hate discussion-based classes you should see if students tend to take a lot of seminars for the major/program (if so, you may want to reconsider).

If one (or several of these things) are not a high priority for you then I recommend replacing them with other things that are (having several high priority will help to narrow down schools). Other options could diversity, cost, and sports (especially applicable if you plan on playing competitively). Now that you have identified these factors it is time to find some schools that are a perfect fit.

The best way to do this is to start using online resources and books to explore as many schools as possible. One of my favorite online resources is CollegeConfidential’s SuperMatch, which is probably the most comprehensive college search engine I have seen.

I recommend trying to find twice as many schools that are a perfect fit on paper than the number you are actually looking for. So if you want five perfect reach fits, look for ten. The reason for this is because there will be times that a school is a perfect fit for you on paper and then something just doesn’t click later on in the search process. Remember it is okay to later realize that a school isn’t so perfect.

Finally, it is time to further explore these schools. If you haven’t talked to current students, try reaching out to some. Also try student blogs and publications. If it is financially possible, an overnight visit will help you to truly understand the school. I also recommend reaching out to any alumni you may know that attended the school.

Hopefully with these resources you can begin to identify schools that are perfect for you!



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the author

Samantha Linder is a sophomore at Smith College where she is double majoring in neuroscience and art history. Samantha's favorite words include hippocampus, logorrhea, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

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