College Search 101: Choosing the “Perfect” Fit

My college search advice…

Between yesterday and today I’ve answered many, many questions about Iowa, our admission practices and policies, and also the college search process. Yesterday I was asked a rather unique question which I loved. It gives me a great opportunity to offer my college search advice.

A father and son approached me when the son started to ask questions about our campus. When asked how old he was, the student responded, “Only a junior.”. To this I responded, “Only a junior? That’s “only” the best time to start your college search!”

Upon my response the father then asked, “What’s your advice for a junior?”

This was a unique question I’d never fielded. For lack of a better analogy (and time to think of one), I said, “Approach the college search process like you would buying a car. You wouldnt dare buy the first car a car you looked at would would you? Nor would you spend the next 4 years at the first college you asked about.”

Therefore, going along with the car analogy, this is my advice to a junior moving into senior year.

FRIST and foremost: Junior year is a great time to start ‘car shopping.’  Before even looking at colleges, think of what you want out of a college.  I thought it funny when I asked a girl today what she was lookinng for, and she responded, “well, I don’t know.”  Everyone knows what they want out of a college institution.  While they might need a second to close their eyes and think; they know.  Large, small, contemporary, modern, urban, rural – these can all be characteristics of what you’re looking for in a college institution.  I am asked some very strange questions sometimes, and while I think they may be strange, I know that individual aspect of college is important to that individual student.  For example, I was once asked, “Do more of your students wear sweatpants or jeans.”  While this may mean nothing to one student, it may mean the world to another.  Therefore, STEP ONE; Decide what you want.  Be greedy. It’s your education.

STEP TWO: Gather information.  After determining what type of car you would like  (truck, luxury, compact, mid-size, etc) you need to find out what cars fit that type.  Same with colleges.  Search for colleges that fit the profile you’ve deemed as the “perfect” college.  Ask questions, talk to the admission counselors, talk to the students,  find an alumnus if possible.  Gather information about the college.  This includes, the following:

          1.) Academics.  (class sizes, availability of professors, academic resources, honors program opportunities, research opportunities, etc).

           2.) Cost (overall cost, how financial aid is awarded – merit vs. need,  scholarship availability, continuing year scholarships/scholarships after the first year, etc)

          3.) Atmosphere  – this is where I related the jeans v. sweatpants question (size, the #of clubs/organizations, the types of clubs/organizations, volunteer opportunities, involvement within the surrounding community, diversity of the student population, extracurricular opportunities, distance from home, facilities/buildings, etc. Again… you’re, in a sense, choosing a new home for 4 years – you should like/love it)

STEP THREE and MOST IMPORTANT:  VISIT (the test drive).  Vist the campus.  Much like test driving a car, this is your opportunity to see what the institution’s really like.  Much like a car salesman talking about every car as ‘the best,’ most college representatives will tell you they’ve got ‘excellent or great programs.’   Take a tour.  Talk to the students.  Get the ‘feel’ of campus.  You may love one institution on paper/web, but once there, you might find that it’s really not the right fit.  This is the same for a car – as a 6’2″ guy, I may think a car is sporty and cool, but once inside, I find I have no headroom and would feel more comfortable in something else. 

Most of the students I talk to at any institution, will most often say the reason they chose that institution was because they “fell in love with the campus,” “it felt right,” or “it felt like home.” 

After these three steps you should have what is (or should be) the best fit.  While not perfect in every aspect, it will be the best, and once on campus and making it your own, it WILL be PERFECT.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to post, contact, or call!

Best of luck throughout the college search process, and more-so your college experience!

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