“A Good College Fit is One That Will Meet Your Academic Needs”

By Peter Van Buskirk

Students often enter the college search process with specific academic programs or career interests in mind. And why not? If you know what you want to study in college, the best places are those that will accommodate and support the development of your interests. For example, if you want to pursue chemical engineering, focus on schools that offer it. The same is true whether your interests lie in business, elementary education, or graphic design.

As you look at colleges, be careful not to compromise your pursuit of such passions. If you want to pursue film studies, but a college you are considering doesn’t offer a very well established program in that area, then you need to recognize early that it is not a good fit. You owe it to yourself to look into colleges that offer substantive programs that meet your needs in your areas of interest.

In particular, don’t let emotional interests override your academic priorities. Embracing a college or university simply on the merit of its overall ranking or reputation, or because it has a great athletic program or is in a location you like, on the assumption you’ll be able to figure out the academic piece later, is not wise. When you do that, you become “destination-centered” and set yourself up for frustration down the line. Think about it. How often do you hear about students transferring because the colleges they have chosen don’t offer the programs they want to study?

If, on the other hand, you don’t feel drawn to a particular career interest or academic direction, don’t worry. You’re normal. It’s difficult to know at any age what you’ll do for the rest of your life, so relax. Don’t get hung up on what you don’t know. Instead, see those presumed “deficiencies” as opportunities. You’ve got a lot of time to sort them out.

If you are “undecided,” the more important underlying questions are, “Do you have the desire to learn—to discover the many truths that define you and the world in which you live—and, if so, can you project the relevance of what you are learning into the various pathways you might choose in life?”

Hopefully, the answer to both questions is “yes.” If so, look for places that will encourage you to explore various perspectives and draw from diverse experiences that will form the building blocks that are foundational to your future direction. Whatever you do, don’t succumb to the notion that there is something wrong with you if your future plans are not laid out in great detail.

You’ll be fine. Hundreds of institutions across the country—liberal arts colleges as well as universities with robust general studies programs—are eager to embrace the undecided student. You just need to plan accordingly to give yourself options.

That said, be true to your priorities as you go into the college selection process. If you know what you want to do academically, go for it! On the other hand, don’t add schools to your list that will limit your academic flexibility if what you really want is the opportunity to explore. If you are undecided about your future academic directions, yet find yourself looking at an application for admission that requires you to declare a major as you apply for admission, you are looking at an institution that is not a good fit for you. In the long run, it matters less where you go to college and more what you do with the opportunities available to you at that school. Focus on places that will embrace your interests and give you the best opportunity to succeed. In doing so, don’t abandon your academic needs in favor of factors that will have little or no impact on your learning experience.

Did You Know…

  • You will probably change your major in college?  Most college students do at least once.
  • Most students enter college “undeclared” with regard to a major?
  • The odds are that you will change jobs at least four times and change careers twice?
  • Many colleges report that 80-90% of the people who graduated more than 25 years ago are now in careers that did not exist when they graduated?


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