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How to Find Your Best-Fit College

By the IvyWise Team of College Admissions Experts

There are so many factors to consider when choosing a college. Students are thinking about everything from, “does this school offer the major I want to pursue?” to “will there be pick-up games of ultimate Frisbee on the quad?” Not to mention the cost of tuition, how far away from home campus will be, the selectivity and reputation of the school, and even how the size of the campus will impact all of their priorities. A well-balanced list should be comprised of schools that are a good fit for you in every aspect of what they can offer: socially, academically, and financially. But what does it mean, exactly, when we talk about finding colleges that are the right “fit”?

Why “Fit” Matters

All colleges and universities have certain values that make them unique or aspects of academic and extracurricular life that they prioritize as the most important parts of their student experience. Some schools place emphasis on research opportunities, others are known for their athletics. Some schools tout an intimate campus in a rural setting where many students spend their weekends pursuing outdoor activities; others are located in the heart of a thriving major city, where weekend outings to the museums or theater might be more common.

You wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes that were two sizes too big. You wouldn’t join an organization that represented the opposite of your beliefs. You wouldn’t wear a pair of prescription glasses that were meant for someone else — think about the potentially disastrous outcome of that! College is the same way. Attending a school that isn’t the right fit — whether it’s not academically challenging enough, too academically challenging, not the right social vibe, or too far away — can lead students to feel dissatisfied and anxious, and ultimately prevent them from enjoying what should be some of the best years of their lives.

Like many things in life, when you choose something that fits well, it just feels right, like it was made especially for you. Finding a good fit leads to positive end results — students will thrive rather just survive, they’ll graduate on time and generally have a much more positive experience because they’ll be happy where they landed. Who wouldn’t want that?

Finding Those Best-Fit Colleges

So, now that we’ve talked about what fit means and why it’s so important, how do you know if a school is the right fit for you?


First, do your research. Think about the things that are most important to you- student life, academics, location, size, and more. Start by paying close attention to what’s featured on each school’s website. Keeping your goals and interests in mind, dig into student blogs and social media (yes, you can use Instagram in your college research!) to get a feel for the campus vibe. Areas to research:

  • Majors, professors, and courses
  • Extracurricular offerings
  • Community service
  • Study abroad
  • Campus culture
  • Internship opportunities
  • Even housing systems and school traditions!

Don’t Look at Just the Name

This piece cannot be emphasized enough: it’s really important to think about more than just a school’s reputation when narrowing your well-balanced list. For example, Georgia Tech is a great school, but if you want to immerse yourself in the liberal arts on a small West Coast campus, it’s not going to be a good match for you. Similarly, Bowdoin College might sound ideal at first, but if you’re interested in engineering or business, it’s not going to have the academic offerings you’re seeking. Just because a school touts a prestigious, recognizable name does not mean it’s going to guarantee success or happiness for every student. So try not to obsess about name brands – focus on what feels right and where you think you would be happiest!

Visit (Virtually or In-Person)

Finally, sometimes the best way to get a feel for whether or not a school is the right fit is to visit the campus! Feel out the atmosphere, chat with other students, ask them what they like about the school or what they would change. Sit in on a class to get a feel for the learning environment. If you can’t visit in person, be creative about how you might mirror an in-person campus visit experience to the best of your ability. Reach out to the admissions team and ask what your options are – many schools are offering virtual information sessions and campus tours. Inquire if they would be willing to connect you with a current student so you could ask questions over the phone or Zoom. Try to get a first-hand perspective from current students and compare it to your own values and goals.

Narrowing Your College List

Once your preliminary research is done and you’ve found a bunch of schools that offer what you’re looking for, it’s time to narrow your list down to make sure it’s balanced and manageable. Aim for a total of 10-15 schools – not dozens! Your final list should be a nice balance of what we at IvyWise refer to as reach, target, and likely schools.

  • Reach schools: Your academic profile is not quite as strong as the middle 50% of students who are admitted to that school.
  • Target schools: Your profile is on par with the middle 50% of admitted students.
  • Likely schools: Your academic profile is stronger than the middle 50% of admits.

The goal is to achieve a final list with both range and balance, and for every school on your list to be a good fit for you!

Deciding which school to ultimately attend often comes down to simply trusting your gut. Like the pair of shoes that looked like they might not fit at first, or the outfit in the store you weren’t sure would be your style, sometimes trusting your gut means choosing the thing that you were unsure about at first, but after trying it on, you absolutely fell in love with it. So, don’t be afraid to “try on” different colleges to be sure you’re finding those perfect fits!

At IvyWise, we work with students to help them identify and apply to their best-fit colleges. Our team of expert counselors works with students applying to a variety of colleges and universities, both in the US and abroad, whether it’s a hyper-competitive research university or a small, liberal arts college. Your IvyWise counselor will work with you to find the schools that are a best fit for your interest and goals, and ensure that you’re presenting your best self in your applications. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services.

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