College Search: How to Find Your Best College Fit

March 02, 2017

Although current seniors may be wrapping up their college applications, high school juniors are starting their search for the best college fit and deciding what schools to add to their college lists.

With over 2,000 four-year private and public institutions in the U.S., how do you figure out which college is the best fit for you? Here are the top criteria to help you decide what’s most important to you when you choose a college:

Costs and Scholarships

This is one of the biggest concerns for students considering college. Talk to your parents about the financial costs of going to college, and be realistic about what you can afford. Keep in mind that a lot of private and public universities offer financial aid, so don’t completely rule them out. Just have the expectation that you may have to take out loans, or be on top of your scholarship search.

Questions you should be asking:

  • How much does tuition cost, on average, per year? How about room and board?
  • What financial aid packages do schools offer? In what forms (need-based, merit-based, etc)?

Potential Major

Not every university will offer the same academic programs. If you want to study something specific, make sure you do your research to figure out which universities offer the programs you’re looking for.

Questions you should be asking:

  • What do you want to study? Does the school offer your specialty?
  • Are there interesting dual degree programs? Can you design your own course of study?
  • Are the classes taught by professors or graduate students (TAs)? How much does that even matter?
  • Are there internships or research opportunities available?

Student Life

Study body is extremely important, because it not only represents the people you will be attending college with and learning from, but your peers will eventually also become your alumni professional network. Plus, college is about meeting new people and self-discovery, so you want to make sure you’re in the best environment for you to thrive.

Questions you should be asking:

  • What are you looking for in a student body? Use our 5-adjective test to figure out the type of people you want to have as classmates.
  • What extracurriculars are there on campus?
  • What can students do to enjoy their free time? What are the different types of social opportunities available?
  • What are the dorms like? Does the school’s housing policy impact how cohesive the student body is?
  • How is the surrounding college town? Do students seek out off-campus opportunities to get involved in the community?

Class Size

There are colleges with 200 people per graduating class, and there are big universities with at least 8,000 students per year. Depending on the popularity and course offerings of your academic program as well, your class size and instruction style will range from lecture halls with hundreds of students to small discussion seminar groups. Be honest with yourself about what is the best learning environment for you.

Questions you should be asking:

  • What medium of learning works best for you? Are you better with intimate one-on-one critical thinking sessions? Are you a more hands-on practical learner? Or would you be able to cut it in a primarily audial information processing lecture?
  • Do you want to develop certain skills while in school, such as speaking up more or having the opportunity to lead and present a project? Consider the types of classes that will allow you to pursue these goals.
  • While a ton a emphasis is put on student to teacher ratio, what’s more important are opportunities to connect with your professors one-on-one. What are professor office hour policies? Do students generally have solid relationships with their professors?


There are rural, suburban and urban colleges. More so than any other criteria on this list, this is completely a personal preference. It is based on what you enjoy doing in your free time and what environment you enjoy being in.

Questions you should be asking:

  • Do you like the quintessential college campus setting where most social activities occur on campus?
  • Do you enjoy the hustle and bustle of a city? Or do you find it distracting?
  • Do you want to experience a regional culture that’s different from the one you grew up with?
  • Do you want to participate in off-campus activities that can bolster your academic curriculum? Is the school located in a city that allows for that?
  • Are you looking to pursue internship/externship opportunities in college?
  • Do you want to have a car on campus? If not, is the campus walkable and/or is the public transportation sufficient to get around easily?


Seasonal depression is real. Some people simply do not like cold or rainy winters. If the weather climate affects your mood and has been known to impact your ability to motivate yourself and be productive, make sure you take this into account!

Questions you should be asking:

  • Do you like having the variety of all 4 seasons?
  • Do you prefer the cold or the heat?
  • Have you experienced all types of climates? And, if not, do you want to?


Applying to college?
View the app files and essays of accepted students.

Once you’ve run all of your potential colleges through these criteria, you should have a better sense of what colleges you’d like to apply to and the specific reasons each one stands out to you. Good luck, and happy searching!

About The Author

Frances Wong
Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.


Browse Successful Application Files

Stanford ‘20

Accepted to Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA

Born in small town, interested in math, science, and literature. Attending Stanford University starting fall of 2016, planning on studying engineering or computer science, with a minor in a foreign language.
Stanford ‘19

Accepted to Stanford, Williams, Brown, Pomona, Duke, Bard, Kenyon

Stanford 2019, creative writing and education. Full essays! "Lopsided," less-than-stellar numbers.
Brown ‘20

Accepted to Brown, UPenn, Wellesley, Kenyon, Macalester, Holyoke, Harvard, Bowdoin

Just another girl finally through the college apps rat race. I'm happy to share with you what I did to get through it! Currently I'm pre-law and possibly majoring in Public Policy.
UMich ‘20

Accepted to UMich, GA Tech, Case, Michigan Tech

I am a hard-working, motivated student, athlete, and performer who enjoys having fun on the side.

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