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How to Probe for the Right College Fit

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It is stressful applying to college. The application process is hard enough, but before you even get started on that, you have to figure out where you want to apply! Sometimes finding the right college is like looking for a needle in a haystack. But, one thing is for sure. The worse thing you can do is to apply to a college for the wrong reason – because it’s hard to get into!

The better reason to apply to any college is because it fits your needs! But what are your needs? Often you tend to think about a college’s size, its location, and its programming as ways to match your needs. Certainly all those factors make a difference. But, why? That’s the real rub. So it is better to look deeply into yourself. Probe what you like; and then size, location, and programming begin to take on a personal perspective. Then you begin to understand why you might want a college to be small, located in Michigan, and offering a forestry program. Here are some questions to ask yourself, applying especially to how you learn—because college, after all, is about your education!

• Are you an independent learner or do you like to work in teams and have one-on-one help and interaction in your learning?

• Do you like to take initiative or learn by following and imitating others?

• Do you like to learn in a small classroom or do you get a lot from listening to lectures packed full of information?

• What stresses you: crowds, pressure, work load?

• What do you enjoy learning about?

Answers to these questions can help you decide what you are looking for in a college. The next step is to probe the college to see if it really fits your needs.

Never depend on only one or two sources to find out about any college, and make sure you do not use abbreviated, although easy-to-read, sources like college reviews, mailed pamphlets, or college rankings charts. It is better to go to a college’s website to find out the best information about a college. But then you have to do a little digging.

• Look at the college’s programming and faculty, but go further. Find out what the faculty is doing or assigning in the classes that appeal to you. Email them directly!

• Look at student activities, but also go to the organization’s or activity’s website, and email students about what they are doing or about how their organization runs.

• Go online to read comments students are making or tweeting about their experiences at a college.

• Read the students newspaper, look at the campus calendar, ask questions via email of admissions people, faculty, financial aid, etc.

• Stay overnight on a campus. Attend classes. Speak to people: faculty, students, janitors, advisers, secretaries….

Do not leave stones unturned. Start early and really put some thought into where you might be spending your next four, formative years.