Choose the Right-Fit College: Know Thyself

“There are so many colleges out there that the prospect of finding the one that’s your perfect match can seem overwhelming. You may already know something about certain schools through things you’ve heard from friends, family, and reading college brochures, but how are you supposed to know which ones might be worth investigating and which one will ultimately be a good choice for you?

Think about it this way: You’re trying to match two elements–yourself and a college. While it can be tempting to start looking at different schools right away, take some time to get to know yourself better. This involves taking stock of more concrete things like your academic standing, and thinking about the more intangible parts of you: your personality, your likes and dislikes, and what makes you comfortable or uncomfortable. If you begin your search with a solid understanding of yourself, it will be easier to figure out what you should look for in a college.

Figure Out Your Academic Profile
College is about more than just academics, but taking classes, doing well, and learning is a significant chunk of what you’ll be doing. And you want to make sure that you go to a college that challenges you without being overwhelming. When the admissions officers read through your application, they’ll also be thinking about this and will be trying to figure out how well you’ll be matched up with the college’s academic profile. Other criteria will be important as well–your involvement outside of class, your drive and ambition, and the diversity of your experience–but how well you do in school and on standardized tests are important considerations.

Try to be as honest as possible as you think about your academic profile. If your grades and standardized test scores aren’t so great, that’s okay, and there are many colleges where you can be accepted, learn a lot, and have a great time. But if you apply to schools that don’t match your academic profile, you risk not having enough choices when it comes time to make your final decision.

Here are some questions you should consider. Their purpose is to get you thinking about where you stand academically and what college environment will be the best match for you:

  • How difficult are your high school courses and how well have you done in them?
  • What were your PSAT, SAT, or ACT scores? (You can always improve these, but think about how you compare generally to the other college applicants.)
  • Are you taking any advanced-placement (AP) classes?
  • How do you measure up to your peers? Are you one of the top students, near the top, or somewhere in the middle?

You should also think about your attitude toward studying and classes in general. Competitive colleges have extremely rigorous academics and if you don’t like to spend many hours reading tough material, you might want to apply to some less rigorous schools.

  • How curious are you about knowledge and learning in general?
  • Do you have good study habits and an ability to discipline yourself and work independently? (It wouldn’t hurt any of us to have better study habits, but think about how well you work on your own and how you handle difficult assignments.)
  • How do you deal with pressure?
  • Are you organized, good at managing your time, and prioritizing?
  • Are you good at seeking help with schoolwork when you need it?

Interest Groups
You want to apply to colleges that offer great classes and majors in the areas that interest you. For example, if you can’t go a day without statistics, then you probably need to look at some schools with great statistics departments.

Think about the following:

  • What academic subjects interest you?
  • What types of things do you like to study?
  • What are some of your favorite classes?

In addition to your academic interests, think about other things you enjoy doing–after all, you’ll only be spending part of your time studying.

  • What extracurricular activities are you involved in?
  • Is it important for you to continue with any of them in college?
  • What things do you like to do outside of school?

Try not to limit yourself too much. It’s a good idea to choose a college that satisfies your current interests, but know that some of them will probably change. There are a lot of subjects and activities you haven’t encountered yet and that may grab your attention once you get to college.

Some people go into their freshman year convinced they are going to study one thing for the next four years, and then that’s what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives. Most people don’t stick with that.

–Recent Grad

(Your) Personality Matters
Honest self-reflection about who you are and what you like is more likely to lead you to a school where you feel comfortable being yourself and supported in what you’re trying to achieve. If you can find this, you’ll feel happier in your surroundings and you’ll be more likely to perform well academically. Party schools are only fun if you love to party, and conservative college environments will drive you nuts if you’re more of an off-the-cuff kind of person.

Be honest about what you’re like and don’t feel like you have to be a certain way. Consider the following:

  • How do you socialize–do you like small groups, one-on-one interactions, or large crowds?
  • Do you like to be around people or do you need a lot of time to yourself?
  • Are you the life of the party or more shy and reserved?
  • Do you like to be close to your family or is being farther away healthier for you?
  • Do you love big, bustling cities? Or do you start to suffocate unless you’re being one with nature?
Be Brutally Honest
The more honest you are in evaluating yourself, the more likely it is you’ll find a college where you’re comfortable. College is a great time to grow and evolve–there’s no doubt about that. But try to be honest about your starting point: who you are and what’s important to you now.

Most of us have no problem acknowledging our strengths. But, let’s face it, it’s not a lot of fun to sit down and think about those things that we just wish would go away. Do it anyway. Maybe you wish your grades were better, but if they’re not, you’ll need to apply to some less competitive schools to make sure you have all the bases covered. Maybe you wish you didn’t get so freaked out when you’re under pressure. But if that’s the case, you’re going to have to look for a college atmosphere that’s more laid back.

It’s also important to be honest about your interests and preferences and to distinguish them from those of your peers. What works for someone else might not work for you.

Don’t Go It Alone
You don’t have to figure out everything on your own. Sometimes aspects of ourselves are so much a part of us that it can be difficult for us to see them. The people who know you well can help in your self-evaluation. Bounce some ideas off your friends, parents, and counselors. If there’s something you’re not quite sure about, ask them: “Where do you think I stand academically?” or “What type of campus setting might I strive in?”

Choosing where to go to college is a very personal decision, but it doesn’t mean that you have to make it in isolation.”


Help your students prepare for college by using CAP, the interactive and social way to prepare for college where we teach about this, and a lot more. See details here:


Excerpted from:


From Choose the Right College and Get Accepted: How to Choose the Right College and Get in to Your Dream School by Students Helping Students. Copyright © 2005.

If you’d like to buy this book, click here.


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About Nathan and Joanna Cornett

We are a from San Diego California, currently on a mission trip in Guatemala. Nathan has worked as a youth pastor, teen center director, college advisor, and now missionary. Joanna has worked at LaBahn's Landscape for 7 years in the field, sales, and as the Vice President, she started the Hispanic ministry at Foothills Church, and has worked in youth ministry, she is now working as a missionary. We are both passionate about youth, worship, and missions.

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