Michelle Klar Apr 22 2020

Planning for the Future and Making Best-Fit College Choices

You’ve worked diligently in school, engaged in leadership through activities, and now it’s time to consider where you want to apply to university. An equal mix of feeling excited and overwhelmed! With literally thousands of universities to choose from, in dozens of countries, how do you know where to start?  You could simply look up a list online and consider that your college list, but are those schools really the best options for you?

It’s important to start the process of deciding where to apply by taking stock in what is important to you; not only the university experience but understanding your personal value system. These values and other important items are considered your criteria, essentially the road map you use to filter universities through as you do research.  Eventually leading to schools that are a “good fit.” Criteria can be a range of things: values and beliefs, activities that you hope to continue, research opportunities, post-graduation employment or internship availability, or reputation of a particular program.  I specifically note the reputation of a program as an important criterion to consider because many rankings you see don’t take into consideration individual programs but possibly just the school in general.

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Recognizing the reputation of the program is vital because this will be where you gain the knowledge, skills, and professional connections to advance you. A good resource to help you start to identify your criteria and find universities that match can be found at Collegexpress.com


Many families might ask, “Why is a good fit important when choosing universities in which to apply?”  Universities routinely look at student retention rates and the complex factors that play into whether students are satisfied and remain at their schools.  Research routinely shows that when the previous expectation of the school matches the reality you experience when you actually attend, students are more satisfied.  This satisfaction can lead to a greater commitment to academics, engagement, and other endeavors.  We see this routinely in job and career satisfaction. When a job not only fulfills your interests, but also matches your values and personality, the satisfaction tends to be greater.

Research is the key to uncover whether a school is right for you. Choosing a university to attend is a large commitment of time and money, so thoroughly understanding not only the academics and activities that are available, but also the philosophy and culture of each school is vital.  By knowing what is important to the university, you will gain an understanding about whether your personal criteria can be met or not. Don’t take others’ words for it that a university is “good” for you, but spend the time to investigate the school’s website, talk to admission representatives, and determine your own conclusions.  This information can become overwhelming, so many find it helpful to have a sheet listing each school you are considering with the criteria that is important to you. Then rank how each criterion is met at the individual schools. This method can assist you in making informed choices based on your fact finding.

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Lastly, it is highly beneficial to visit the university campuses you are considering when possible.  There is nothing like being on the campus, speaking with professors, and interacting with other students that will help you gain clarity if a place is for you. You can often be surprised during a visit, finding the school you had been dreaming of just didn’t live up to your hopes or a school that was barely on your radar went beyond your expectations. If you are unable to visit a university in person, most schools’ admission offices will have virtual tours and online meetings with representatives available for you. It is important to keep an open mind, as well as seek information during the visit about how the university might meet your criteria. In the end, deciding where to apply to university involves many aspects, however having an understanding of what is important to you, as well as expectations for your university experience, will help guide your research and assist you in making decisions.

This post is part of our Applying to College series, which we've put together to better prepare students and parents for the college application process. We’ve enlisted help from our Concordia high school counselors and alumni, who share tips and advice on how to get ready for this important rite of passage.

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