Life after high school: Finding the right college fit | SierraSun.com

Life after high school: Finding the right college fit

Katy Watts
Special to the Bonanza

Finding the right fit. The college match. College counselors emphasize this as a very important part of the college process.

Much has changed over the last 10 years in terms of when to apply, how to apply and what to submit, but the actual process of finding a college has not changed.

Let’s face it, no college or university experience is going to be perfect. You might have a triple bed in your dorm the freshman year, you might not be able to get that class you need right away, or the food might be a little less than desirable.

But finding the place where you will thrive, not just survive, should be the goal.

What makes a great fit? That all depends on the student’s expectations. If you are already thinking of college as a high school freshman or sophomore, get started by thinking “big.”

Perhaps, begin with location. How far away is too far? A two-hour drive and a five-hour plane ride are very different. Tired of the snow and cold? Somewhere with less dramatic seasons might be better.

Of course, a huge factor is academic area of interest. Students interested in humanities or liberal arts, could have a very different choice of campuses than a student interested in science or technology.

Size is also a consideration for students. Understanding the opportunities at a 20,000 student campus vs. a campus with 2,000 students is very important.

Once you can pull together a few of their “must haves,” shift gears and think about what is available at your prospective college or university, and in the area around the school. After all, college is not just about academics but also includes opportunities that will help you gain experience and craft your resumé.

Will you have connections to organizations where you can volunteer, find employment or take part in an internship? A student seeking internships with a chemical company might have a different definition of a good fit college than the student who wants to intern on Capitol Hill.

Generally in the junior year, visiting a college or attending an open house can be a great way to try out the school. Sign up for an admission presentation, and on the campus tour, look at the buildings, pay attention to the students milling around, and pick up a school newspaper.

All you need to know about the school culture is written by the current students. From home, check out the college or university website. Are they highlighting a research grant that was just awarded? Praising the spring musical? What they feature says a lot about the school’s priorities.

Click on the “about” tab and also check out the academic sections. Go a few more clicks, dig deeper, and if you like what you see, sign up for newsletters and emails. Once you get on their mailing list, you will be notified of any special programs they host, if they travel your area for a presentation and possible scholarships.

Exploring schools can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. There are thousands of colleges in the US. There will be some great matches — if you take your time and do some soul searching.

Even if you do visit a college campus and find it’s not a great fit, it’s OK — you are now closer to figuring out what you do like. Be sure to have conversations with your parents and know their expectations so that there are no surprises on affordability and even location.

Use your counselor as a resource for suggestions. What are you waiting for? Dive in!

Katy Watts is the college counselor at Tahoe Expedition Academy. She holds a Masters in Counseling with a Pupil Personnel Services Credential and is entering her 14th year as a school counselor. She may be reached for comment at kwatts@tahoeexpeditionacademy.org.