Finding Your Academic Fit

College admissions consultants work with students to help them “build” their college list. But, there are a lot of amazing colleges and universities out there, so how do students choose which colleges to put on their college list?  One critical consideration is academic fit – the college must have the majors and programs that appeal to the student!  While some (usually large) universities admit students directly into a major, even those that do not often ask students what their intended major is (although “undecided” is typically an option). While non-binding, these are not throw-away questions on a college application – admissions officers want to admit students who have thought carefully about what they want to study, and they want to make sure the student will thrive academically at their college. A student who tells a college she wants to study neuroscience when that major is not offered at that college is not likely to be admitted!

But asking a 17 year old what they want to study can be daunting – they have had very little time to explore, let alone reflect on their interests.  As Princeton University advises its own students, “getting to know yourself is an important first step in selecting the right major.” They recommend students engage in a self-assessment, and “look for patterns in their responses that will help you identify your best fit.” There are many assessments tools that high school students can use, among them YouScience, Corsava and Innate Assessment. Here are a few questions that students should consider, even if they decide not to take a formal assessment:

What do they like to do in their free time?
What kinds of books are they drawn to? Same question for movies and tv shows.
What classes have been their favorite?
Which teachers or classes motivate them?
What kinds of assignments do they like best?
What kinds of assignments do they find the easiest/the most difficult?
How do they work best? Alone? In small groups? In teams?
What would their friends say their strengths are? Same question for their parents.
What kind of people do they like to hang out with? Why?
What do they consider the most pressing problem facing the world (or their community) right now?
If they could change one thing in their community, what would it be and why?

Students should take time to really think about these questions, and an equal amount of time to really think about their answers. They are likely to evolve as students mature as college students, but these questions are a starting point for students as they begin to think about what they want to study in at college. A student who has thought critically about these questions will be a more thoughtful applicant, and, in turn, increase the likelihood of choosing a college that is a good academic fit.