As much as I preach about the importance of finding the right college fit, it’s not realistic for most students to be certain of their collegiate match until they actually become a college student.
There are just too many variables when evaluating colleges to expect to be certain with your choices. Our former students who rave about their experiences point to things like particular classes or professors, new friends, activities they’ve discovered—many of which cannot be researched or planned ahead of time.
What you want out of college, the environment that feels right, your goals and interests and what you do for fun—all of those things can change between the ages of 17 and 22 (how many adults could say that they didn’t change at all during those pivotal years?).
And there’s almost no way to effectively test-drive a college. Yes, you can research and visit and even talk to current students. But you won’t really be able to experience it until you begin your life as a student and a member of that community.
So if this certainty is so elusive, why push the search for fit?
A student who really takes the time to consider what they want out of college, who ponders what interests them, what they’d like to learn and do and experience, will understand themselves better than the student whose search begins and ends with, “I want to go to an Ivy League school.”
A student who investigates and then evaluates potential colleges will be a savvier college shopper. She’ll have strong points of comparison and contrast as well as a much better sense of the available options.
A student who is engaged in the college search will take appropriate ownership of the process. They’ll refine their gut instinct about schools and do a much better job of imagining themselves on each potential campus.
And most importantly, a student who searches for the right college fit is taking appropriate ownership of what might be their first major life decision as an adult. Isn’t that better than just trusting college rankings or simply applying to schools that parents select?
Uncertainty is a normal part of big decisions. It’s hard to be completely sure until the aftermath of the choice. But much like in romance, job hunting, and just about every other major decision that affects our lives, the more thoughtful and deliberate we are, the more confidence we have in ourselves and optimism we have that things will work out somehow, the more likely those thoughts become self-fulfilling prophecies.