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Finding the Right School

By Hannah Smith

With thousands of four-year colleges and universities in the US (and thousands more abroad), it’s difficult to know whether a school is right for you. What makes for a good school fit? How can I tell if I’ll be happy at a school? What are the best ways to research schools? When do I know if this is the right school for me?

As you begin building your school list and thinking about college applications, you should spend some time on self-reflection. It’s important to understand exactly what you are looking to gain out of your college experience. So, before you apply (and especially before you make final school decisions) look through these 5 key steps towards finding the right school for you!

Make a list of what is important to you

Everyone’s priorities are different. Understanding exactly what you are looking for in a school is the first step towards finding the best fit. There are hundreds of different factors that can go into your list. Some common ones include:




Distance from home


Average classroom size

Majors offered

Student groups on campus

Surrounding town/city

Research opportunities for undergrads

Alumni networks

…the list goes on

Really spend some time thinking about what you value and how that will translate into your college experience. Some students are really just looking for a school with a great football team. Some are looking for a super academic atmosphere. And others might be looking for both. Write down what you are looking for!

Do online research

Once you understand what your priorities are, it’s time to see which schools fit the bill. Researching online is the first step. Most schools’ admissions sites offer a ton of helpful information on the school, its programs, student life, and the surrounding area.

Take Vanderbilt’s admissions site for example. You can learn about Nashville, calculate financial aid, read about residential housing, and even take a virtual tour. Looking through a school’s admissions site is the best place to start understanding what a school has to offer!

Visit as many schools as you can

Once you’ve narrowed down your school list, it’s time to get out there and visit campus! Always schedule an official tour in case the school keeps a record of your interactions, and make sure to ask lots of questions. For a comprehensive guide of what to do on a campus visit, check out this article: 21 tips to capitalize on your campus visit!

Be true to yourself (don’t feel pressured by family, friends, or teachers)

After completing steps 1-3, you should start to have a strong idea of what you’re looking for in a school. While it’s great to get the opinions of your parents, teachers, or friends, make sure they are not drowning out your voice! This is an extremely important decision, so don’t choose a school simply because your cousin went there and liked it.

Don’t rely on rankings

Finally, don’t always look towards rankings as a way to decide your best school! Too many people fall into this trap. Looking at school rankings is a good way to start your college search – and to get a sense of the types of schools you should apply to. But when it comes down to deciding between one school and another, choosing the one that is ranked higher isn’t always the best choice. Remember: this is your decision!

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