When you are looking for the perfect hiking boots, heels, or basketball shoes, you would never consider buying a pair that is too snug, too loose in the heel, or impossible to walk in for more than a few hours. Determining college size and fit is, in many ways, no different, and involves understanding more than the location of the school and the number of students on campus. Discovering the academic landscape, type of curriculum offered (and delivered), and available resources can help determine if a school has the educational environment you’re seeking. The mix of combinations can range from schools that champion core foundation requirements, or emphasize inter-departmental and independent majors. Knowing if a college hosts a library lending program, facilitates cross-enrollment between colleges within the university or between multiple universities, and has study-abroad programs primarily during the junior year or throughout the academic calendar can be the type of insight you need to determine if a college aligns with your educational goals. Identifying specifics of the educational environment may include looking at the support a college provides regarding academic advising, tutoring, first-gen programs, internships, and career placement. When starting your college search, take the time to look beyond location and size, and dive into a school’s academic culture and mission so you can determine your perfect “fit.”
These questions are a good jumping-off point to help you start your own deep-dive:
What is the Academic Landscape? Primarily Tech? Liberal Arts? Comprehensive University? Tech w/ Liberal Arts College?
What is the Curriculum offered? Open? Structured? Hybrid?
How are students admitted into programs? Admission to Major (Direct admit)? Earn your way into a major?
What is the first-year experience? Can students take classes in their major? Are students limited to General Education and pre-requisite classes? Are there required common courses for all incoming first-year students?
What is the Class Size for your average class and required courses? Is there a capped class size for English/Math/Science and major? What is the class size range at a larger university – is it 40-or 400 students? Are labs limited to a set number of students?
What is the retention rate? Find out the return rate of first-year students for each college. Are there certain majors with a reputation for losing students to other related majors?
What is the graduation rate? Can you complete your undergraduate work in four years or will it require more time, and if so, why?
Are there graduate programs or accelerated formats e.g. 3-5 4+1 offered?
How Will You Answer These Questions?
Dive into Virtual Information sessions, Student Chats, and Virtual Tours to answer these questions. Look for on-campus opportunities like department-specific events, or programs when prospective students can shadow classes.
Recognizing the differences and similarities between schools will help you identify colleges that will fit you.
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