Well, it may be a bit pie-in-the-sky to expect perfection, but I do believe that every student can find at least a few places that feel very right (both academically and socially). The key is building your list of ideal characteristics and then finding schools that have most of the items on that list. You may have to compromise, so make sure that you identify your priorities and focus on those first.
Large versus medium versus small
Size is an important factor for many, but not all students. To generalize, typically small- to- medium schools offer more small classes, a stronger opportunity for more personal relationships with faculty and staff, and a strong overall sense of community. On the other hand, larger schools may offer larger athletic programs and the boosted sense of school spirit that comes with those, and a greater number of options for academic programs and student organizations.
Urban versus suburban versus rural
Schools in urban environments may lack the defined “campus” and sense of community that comes with that, but do offer the city at your fingertips. Rural schools may have an aesthetically beautiful campus with a feeling of safety and guaranteed on-campus housing. And suburban schools may be a mix between the two with the campus and housing as well as accessibility to the closest major city.
Religiously affiliated versus non-denominational
Each school’s sense of religious culture is different, but typically at denominational schools you’ll find many opportunities to practice your religion on campus. Additionally, the school’s teaching philosophy and culture will reflect that of the religious denomination of the school. Non-denominational schools will not have as strong of a religious culture on campus, but they may still offer religion and theology classes and opportunities to practice religion on campus.
Specialized schools versus liberal arts schools
Liberal arts schools may provide a greater breadth of majors and academic programs and allow students to double-major across disciplines. Specialized schools will likely offer a greater depth and more unique or specific programs within their area of specialty. If you are undecided or may change your mind drastically, be aware of what your program options will be.
Once you have a set of ideal characteristics (the above as well as the specific programs and activities and/or athletics you’re interested in), you can begin using various tools to identify schools that meet them. Check in next month for more guidance about those tools!