Come time for college applications, a high school senior’s web search history often looks something like:

"College rankings"

"Top colleges for (insert major here)"

"Acceptance rate for (insert college here)"

"Average SAT score for (insert college here)"

Although rankings and numbers can be very insightful, it’s easy to get blind-sighted by the surplus of articles ranking which colleges are supposedly the most prestigious and best to go to, but prestige isn’t everything. If a college’s student body, location, and atmosphere do not fit your personality, college might turn out to be a pretty sour time, thus ultimately affecting not only your academics and career, but also your overall happiness. Rather than focusing merely on statistics and rankings, here are some questions that are arguably just as important in ensuring a successful college experience.

1. Would you rather feel like a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?

For example, would you rather be in the top 10% at a small in-state college or be in the bottom 10% at an Ivy college. Carefully consider whether you'd prefer to be near the bottom of an extremely prestigious school or the top of a less prestigious school. Your decision may affect your stress levels, happiness, and confidence.

2. Do you prefer a rural area, suburbs or a city?

 Is the college in a city with the opportunity for internships and job placement in your desired field? Could you see yourself living there after college?

3. Does the student body fit your personality?

Are you an artsy celebrator of the avant-garde, lover of all things STEM, or total sports junky? Colleges big on football and frats, like UT Austin or the University of Southern California, may not feel as hospitable to students who want nothing to do with that culture. 

4. Do you thrive or fall in competitive environments?

Generally, the higher a school is ranked, the more competitive, studious students it attracts and the harder its academics may be. 

5. Do you succeed more in large or small class sizes?

Does the school fit your learning style? Brown University's consistent pass/fail options, for example, may not provide the proper stimulation and motivation for some students. Consider a school like Gallatin at New York University if you seek freedom in building your own curriculum.

Across the nation, many high school seniors find themselves stressed with getting into the most prestigious school possible, possibly even picking their college simply by choosing the most prestigious school they got into, rather than considering where they would be happiest, most intellectually stimulated, and able to pursue their future goals. Occasionally, put aside the mindless searching for the lowest acceptance rates and highest rankings. Instead of relying solely on statistics to determine what colleges are worth your time, dig deeper, past the numbers, and look into what a college is really about.


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