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    22 Unexpected Ways To Find The Right College For You

    Because everything you need to know is not in the brochure.

    If you're gearing up to apply to college, you know that it's kiiiind of a stressful time of year.

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    As you put together a list of schools to apply to, there are probably things you know to consider: where a school is, what programs it offers, how hard it is to get in, how much it'll cost you, etc. But anyone who's gone through college will tell you — the best school on paper might not actually be the best fit for you.

    So, to help you make sure the colleges you're applying to are all places you could potentially thrive emotionally, mentally, and academically, we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community and a few experts what you really should be thinking about when evaluating potential schools.

    1. If you strongly identify as an introvert or extrovert, consider that as part of the equation.

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    Basically, the introversion/extroversion scale plays a big part in what kind of environments you feel most effective in, which is definitely something to consider when looking at various campus ~vibes~, clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, PhD, tells BuzzFeed Health.

    "Ask yourself, 'What kind of environment will be the best fit for my personality?'" says Howes. "Where are you able to think the best? Where are you able to produce and be creative? Extroverted folks might need a lively environment with a lot of stuff going on to thrive. But people who are on the introverted side might need a college where they have room to recharge or more casual ways to socialize."

    2. Make sure you get the uncensored opinions of people who've actually been there.

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    Listen, it's the job of the admissions office to put the school's best face forward, but that won't always give you the whole story. Getting details from actual students will give you a more realistic picture, as Nancy Roy, EdD, clinical director at the Jed Foundation, tells BuzzFeed Health.

    If you're able, campus visits are a great way to do this, but you can also visit online forums for prospective students (like College Confidential), or do a little sleuthing on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr to connect with current students who might be down to chat.

    3. Come up with a list of things you really liked or hated about high school and look for (or avoid) those features in a college.

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    You've had four years of high school to learn what helps you succeed, what makes you miserable, what enriches your life, and what stressed you the fuck out. That kind of thing can be directly applicable to choosing a college too, says Roy. For example, if math was the bane of your existence in high school, there are some colleges out there where you'll NEVER HAVE TO TAKE ANOTHER MATH CLASS AGAIN.

    4. Make sure you're applying to schools in places you'd actually want to live for a few years.

    Twitter: @themessmers

    "I would tell myself to go somewhere I felt comfortable not just on campus but off campus as well. Does the school area have everything I need nearby, like a grocery store, supply store, off-campus library, bike lanes/paths, and the like? Remember you will be living in this area for the next four to six years. Feeling safe and comfortable is important because it will foster a better studying and socializing environment."

    —Azure Adams, Facebook

    5. And on the subject of where you'll be living, get aaaall the details about a campus's housing situation.

    This will most definitely impact how safe and comfortable you feel during your college career, says Roy. A few questions to consider:

    * Are there options that suit your socializing and academic needs? (Like, maybe you want to be able to study in your dorm without worrying about crazy noise or maybe you're socially anxious and want a tight-knit dorm that'll make meeting people a little easier.)

    * What are the resources available to help you should you have a conflict with your roommate?

    * Is it competitive to get the kind of setup you want, like a single room?

    * Is campus housing available every year or do students tend to move off campus at a certain point? (And if you do move off campus, is the area safe and affordable?)

    6. Find out if there's a community of people like you — and if they're well-supported on campus.

    Flo Perry / BuzzFeed Comics / Via Facebook: BuzzFeedComics

    This is especially important for students who can expect to be in some sort of minority — students of color, LGBTQ students, differently-abled students, first generation college students, that sort of thing.

    "You don’t want to be the only representative on campus of a particular category," says Roy. "Many first-year students struggle with loneliness and not feeling a sense of belonging, and there is something very supportive in being able to connect with folks who are like you. You share similar issues, similar interests, similar struggles. It’s a community."

    7. And think about which of your values you want your university to share with you.

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    "Look for a school with ideals and values similar to your own. It’s the difference between having four-ish years of personal development versus four-ish years of hating your environment. For me, that took the form of a socially liberal school that reveled in its own diversity and encouraged students to bring about change and chase their own impossible dreams. Meanwhile, I had friends chafing under the restrictions of curfews and chastity vows."


    8. Think about what kind of class size would work best for you.

    Student-to-professor ratio is a common factor schools boast, especially when that ratio is small. But honestly, one is not necessarily better than the other. "It's a very individualized experience," says Roy. "You have to ask yourself how you'd function."

    For example, for some people, big classes might feel low pressure and help them do their best work, whereas small classes might make them anxious because they're more likely to be put on the spot. For others, big lecture halls might be overwhelming or easy to slack off in, whereas small classes make them feel supported and inspired.

    9. Find out what health resources — like counseling centers, trauma support, accessibility offices, nutrition counseling, not-overwhelming fitness centers, etc. — are available.

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    And make sure you look into how they actually function, because plenty of campuses will have them in some form or another — but not all of them will be good.

    "Ask a lot of questions," says Roy. "Do they have a counseling center on campus? How many free sessions of therapy does it provide? Do they have a health center? Is the health center made up of a nurse that’s there three days a week at certain hours? Or is it a full medical center that has physicians? Do I need school insurance or will it accept mine? If there are certain resources you need that aren't available, is there another place in the community you'll be able to access care?"

    10. Same goes for academic resources, because effective ones can have a big impact on your stress levels.

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    Think things like career centers, academic advising, writing centers, peer tutoring — all the things that will save you from drowning in your more overwhelming classes. Most students can benefit from help on things like time management and academic planning, says Roy, so those can be important features on a campus if you really want to succeed academically.

    11. ~Visualize~ in detail what your life could look like at the schools you're considering. What clubs might you join? Where would you meet your friends?

    Facebook: BuzzFeedCollege

    Obviously, that doesn't mean your life WILL look like that. But doing an exercise like this can help you figure out if a school only sounds cool in theory or if it's a place you could actually make into a home. Research clubs and classes, look into what buildings on campus you might spend a lot of time at, picture where you'd fit into the picture.

    You can also work backwards — picture how you'd spend your perfect day on a generic college campus and look for schools that fit that dream. "There’s a tremendous amount of freedom in college to create your own schedule, create your own life," says Howes. "I don’t think many high school students take the time to think about how they'd prefer to spend their time, but if they do, they can find a place that suits it."

    12. Seriously weigh the pros and cons of being far from home.

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    "I would tell myself DON'T GO FAR FROM HOME JUST TO BE FAR FROM HOME. I was so ready to get out of my hometown that I went across the country. Bad choice. Homesickness hit me like a brick the first year and even though I eventually got over it, it still wasn't ideal. Going to college a four hour drive away would've felt just as far, but without the hassle of expensive plane tickets and having no one to go to in an emergency."

    —Zoe Marchant, Facebook

    13. If you think you'll be stressed about fitting in and settling in, look for schools that have pre-orientation programs.

    14. Actually research the differences types of colleges (four-year, two-year, public, private, liberal arts, research, etc.) so you can figure out which one fits your goals.

    "I wish I had understood the difference between a liberal arts college and a larger university. It’s not just size, and I didn’t realize that! I ended up graduating from the perfect university but I transferred there once I realized how much I didn’t like being at a liberal arts college."


    15. Realistically consider how you'd actually function in a super-competitive school.

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    This definitely requires a degree of brutal honesty with yourself. Do you actually want go to an elite school or do you want to have gone to one? If you're a small fish in a huge pond of high-achieving students, does that motivate you or overwhelm you and make you want to give up? Would you rather be in a place where you can lead the pack and have a chance at being the top of your class, or would you wind up slacking?

    "Look at what motivates you and what really helps you excel," says Howes. Thinking critically about it can help prevent winding up somewhere you'll either be way in over your head or super bored.

    16. Judge colleges as a whole, not just by the specific program you're interested in.

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    "Many times, your original choice of major isn't a great fit, and you're left with limited options. Choose the school based on the fit as a whole, so if you decide to change your major or program, you have the best chance to succeed."

    —Hannah Torrance, Facebook

    17. Find colleges that are a good match for both who you are now and who you hope to become in school.

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    It's easy to get caught up in a fantasy of a complete identity overhaul in college — like, maybe if you go to a super prestigious school your inner scholar will rise up, or maybe if you go to a big party school, you'll finally become the social butterfly you always dreamed of being. But if you only apply to schools because you want to be the type of person who could thrive there rather than because you actually are the type who would, you'll probably wind up feeling super out of place or disappointed.

    Instead, pick schools that strike a balance, says Howes — ones that are a good fit for who you are now, but also that will help you grow into more of the person you want to be. So for example, if you're a little shy and want to be more social, look for schools that won't overwhelm you in size, but that have plenty of clubs or groups where you know you could meet cool people.

    18. Look at HOW extracurriculars function on campus. Are they open to everyone? Do you need to apply? Are they competitive?

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    "For the most part, I really loved my college experience. However, one thing that affected me all four years was the fact that most clubs and groups on campus had really competitive application processes — including the ones that you'd think should be open enrollment, like volunteering club! If I could do it all over again, I would've looked into schools that didn't make you jump through so many hoops to do things that were supposed to be fun or enriching."

    —Amanda Riggens, Facebook

    19. Ask what kind of peer support a school has, like resident advisors, mentoring programs, or big buddies.

    This kind of thing is especially important your freshman year when you'll have a lot of stuff to figure out. People like RAs can be invaluable resources during that stressful transition time, says Roy.

    20. Look into how easy it is to take classes outside of your major or program if you're someone who needs variety to stay inspired.

    "I didn't realize how strict the requirements for my program were until I got there. There was nearly no room to take classes for fun or 'just because,' which was something I quickly realized I had been looking forward to in college. Luckily, I transferred to a school that allowed me that flexibility!"

    —Sharon Winchester, Facebook

    21. Find a way to keep track of all the nitty gritty details of how well each school fits you.

    Otherwise, you will get very overwhelmed very quickly.

    This one's from Transition Year, a partnership between The Jed Foundation and the American Psychiatric Foundation focused on emotional health in college. Here's the full worksheet.

    22. Finally, don't apply to a school just because your parents, friends, partner, guidance counselor, teacher, dog, whoever wants you to.

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    "Making decisions based on pleasing other people rarely turns out well," says Howes. "What do you really want? What's best for you?"

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