How Do You Know If A College Isn’t Right For You?

There are more factors than the nine I’ll be writing about, but they are the main ones people consider when selecting a college. Remember, a college doesn’t have to meet all of them to be regarded as a possible college for you.

Factors such as financial incapability, weak career programs, lack of internships, unsuitable academic rigor, family pressure, and “big name” schools should indicate that a college isn’t for you. 

However, certain factors such as financial capability and academic rigor should have more weight in your decision. Carefully choose which aspects are most important to you and decide whether the college you’re thinking about is a possibility for you.

Following are the nine cues that a college is not right fit for you.

The College Isn’t A Financial Match

I sometimes wish I had one of those big megaphones that cheerleaders use in order to tell everyone about a financial match college. I learned about the term “financial match” from a podcast, but that’s not the only name used.

The idea behind a “financial match” college is a college that you can afford. And no, I don’t mean a school where you take out, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans.

I mean a school that you can attend with very little (I consider very little to be only a couple thousand dollars) to no debt. 

To find out if a school is a financial match, visit the site of the college you are interested in. Many colleges have a net price calculator that you or your parents can fill out to estimate the aid you’d be receiving upon attending the school.

The calculator requires you to fill in information such as income, savings, and sibling count. However, you mustn’t completely trust the calculator’s numbers.

The first thing you need to understand is that the more information you need to fill out on the college’s calculator, the more accurate your aid results will be.

If you see a 1-page questionnaire, your results will be inaccurate because they are based on very little information. The Johns Hopkins calculator, for example, has multiple pages that ask very specific questions regarding your family’s finances.

They have much more information to base your estimated aid off of, so they will be much more accurate. 

After you’ve found out your approximate aid package, you have to look at the numbers. The expected family contribution is almost never a realistic estimate.

The college may say that your family can contribute $40,000 a year towards your education. Yeah, $40,000 if your family severely cuts down on your way of living.

That means no more organic food, only one pair of shoes every few years (you only need one pair, right?), and no vacations. This obviously depends on your family’s income, but most households in America won’t be able to afford the price.

The Institute for College Access & Success reports that “graduates with debt represent 69 percent of all students graduating with a BA in 2016.” USAToday says, “those who graduate college with student loans owe close to $30,000 on average.”

If you don’t choose a financial match school, you could be one of many who end up with thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt. A good education doesn’t mean you need to spend tons of money.

Choose a college that gives you a good education and is a financial match. I’m not telling you to not go to your dream college, but think this through seriously. Don’t burden your future with thousands of dollars in college debt. 

Family Pressure Is The Reason You Applied

Sometimes, parents are much more interested and excited about the college process than their kids. It can help to have parents who are willing to assist, but sometimes, they make all the decisions and leave nothing up to their child.

Understandably, you want to invest in your kid’s future, but they could ultimately end up really unhappy for the next 4 (or however many) years.  

One reason that a parent could want their child to attend a particular college is that they are alumni of that college. Having your parents as alumni increase your chances of getting accepted into that college; this is called being a legacy student.

To be a legacy student (legacy can be any relative, but some colleges only think parents are legacy) gives you a huge advantage, especially with more prestigious universities, and could potentially help the college out as well.

Colleges look for legacy students because there is a high probability that the parents will donate money to the college. So, by admitting you, the college could also get the money to build a new building on campus. 

Even though being a legacy student can heavily increase your chances, make sure that you want to go, not your parents. Parents’ pressure to attend their school is common, but don’t let it be the driving factor.

For example, I interviewed Larry GU, who is a rising freshman at NYU, on my podcast: “Who Cares About College?”. His sister also went to NYU (making him a legacy), but he himself fell in love with the school.

He mentioned many things he liked about NYU, specifically, the global programs they have. 

Even though Larry did have an advantage, he didn’t just apply because of his sister. He applied because he was genuinely excited about being a prospective student at NYU.

The Department For Your Intended Major Is Weak

At the mere age of 18, it’s hard to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. And many students go into college with an “undecided” major.

I don’t exactly remember which university it was, but I do remember visiting one college, and they told me that 40% of the incoming class comes in as “undecided”. 

And though this may not be the case for all people, some high schoolers have a relative idea of what area they want to pursue. For example, you may not know what you want to major in exactly, but you do know that your interests are deeply focused on medicare.

In that case, you may want to look at schools that have some renowned medical programs. Or perhaps you are absolutely immersed in the humanities; in that case, you may want to look into some liberal arts colleges.

Going to a school that has a strong program for your desired field has many benefits. For starters, they may have some better resources for you whether you want to pursue an internship or possibly independent research.

If a school has an acclaimed program in a certain area, the professors are usually the best of the best. When I interviewed Taylor from GW, she said a lot of her professors were “stupidly overqualified” because of their vast knowledge and experiences. 

Taylor majors in international affairs (GW has an incredible international affairs program). Taylor said that there would be days that her professors would come into a lecture and tell the students that they were in a conference in China because they are one of the top experts in Chinese relations.

Another one of her professors helped former President Barack Obama create the plan to take out Osama bin Laden. 

These teachers, who teach in the top programs at different schools, can provide you with the connections you need to advance in your field of study.

And, they are both educating students and working in the field that you desire to be part of. The same goes for research. Schools with good programs in your field of study will likely have the resources to help you in your own research.

The Academic Rigor Doesn’t Match Your Capabilities

If you ever want to accomplish something meaningful, challenging yourself in life is essential; the same applies to college.

Sure, you can go to an average school and be in the top with perfect grades, but you’ll barely get anything from your experience. You want to push yourself to see how far you can go.

However, don’t put yourself in a position where you just can not succeed. This is similar to the question: “Is it better to have an A in a regular class than a C in an honors/AP class?”.

Being in an AP class but having a bad grade does not look good on your application at all. You should challenge yourself, but don’t put yourself in an impossible situation. 

I would like to say one thing about athletes, though. If you are a recruited athlete, then the minimum GPA requirement you need to be NCAA eligible (for Division I) is a 2.3. This translates to about a C+ letter grade.

But a college like Duke or Yale is probably not going to accept someone with such a GPA. Even though the student is being recruited for their athletic prowess, they will still be attending the school as a registered student.

Duke and Yale want a good athlete, but they don’t want that student to be severely behind on the academic side of college. In addition to that, a student with such a GPA will bring down their overall class GPA.

Again, always take up a challenge, but ask yourself, “Can I work hard and succeed in this school?” Know your academic level, and use that to choose whether or not this school will challenge you and help you grow.

Make sure that school is not super easy, but at the same time, make sure that it isn’t impossible to succeed. 

The Atmosphere Of The School is Off 

This is hard to figure out if you haven’t visited the school. It’s not something that is ranked or written on a piece of paper for you to see. It differs from person to person on whether they like the atmosphere a school gives off. 

I’ve been on a few college tours, and some colleges had a vibe I instantly fell in love with. They were all really good schools academically, but, as I sit here writing this, two colleges stick out in my mind: Vanderbilt and Northwestern

Note: I’ve only visited a few colleges, and they were all top tier colleges, so my opinion is bound to change 

For starters, the speakers at the info sessions absolutely killed it. The info session speaker at Vanderbilt was so underappreciated by the audience because she hid many funny jokes during her presentation.

Our tour guide was probably my favorite so far. He answered all my questions happily and spoke very passionately about his school. You could tell that he enjoyed being a student there, and his sincerity infected me.

The students seemed very laid back, and even though I know there are rich kids attending the school, I don’t think it would be too apparent. 

If Vanderbilt had the best tour guide, then Northwestern had the best information session speaker. Northwestern actually had a recent senior grad as one of the two speakers, and he (his name is Daniel) was hilarious.

Daniel could provide more about the school from a student’s perspective, and he did it in an effective way. The walking tour was also really amazing, and I felt like I had connected with our tour guide.

As you can probably tell from what I’ve said about Vanderbilt & Northwestern, the students really tell me about the school’s vibe. Of course, it’s hard to tell from just one person, but it’s more of a gut feeling you have.

I loved the schools as soon as I stepped on the campus, and the admissions officers and students just reinforced my view. 

So, go with your gut for the vibe of a school. Again, your view will differ from the person next to you during the walking tour. If you don’t have a good feeling about the community and the feel of a school, consider whether you want to attend it. 

The Prestige Of The College Attracted You

People often have the wrong misconception that you need to attend an Ivy to be successful. Going to an Ivy or any other top tier school can help give you a headstart, but it isn’t the deciding factor in career success.

Going to a top tier school helps you form connections which definitely help when advancing in your career. 

However, don’t attend a “big name” if it doesn’t meet other criteria. Top schools like Georgetown and Yale do indeed have some of the top programs, but how many people can consider those schools “financial match” schools? 

Often, parents will pressure kids to attend these “big name” schools because they want to have the right to brag to other parents. By doing this, debt accumulates, and you may find yourself financially supporting your parents because they didn’t save for their own retirement. 

Remember, your hard work and strive will ultimately determine how far you get. A “big name” school can only do so much for you. 

The Opportunities Offered Are Limited

Others have their own opinions, but when I look for colleges to apply to, internships will be one of the key factors that will guide me. If I’m going to be attending a college that requires thousands from me, then I want to have a good selection of internships to help me in the future. 

Internships can be incredibly useful by introducing you to your desired field of study. They act as a bridge for you to cross before going into the workforce.

Internships are also valuable in forming connections, which is the best way to climb up the work ladder. If you happen to get an internship and put yourself out there, it can help with getting a job out of college, too (employers look for those who have some experience). 

According to Forbes, “a new study shows, 60% of the time, that internship will turn into a job offer”, but the odds for unpaid interns show “thirty-seven percent of unpaid interns got job offers.” This is great if you get a paid internship, but don’t despair because of the unpaid internship results.

Even though the percentage is less than ½, the writer of the article (a senior editor of education at Forbes) says, “unpaid interns have a good shot at using their experience and contacts to land a job. I’ve seen it happen here at Forbes many times. We’ve hired interns, and they’ve gone to other places and gotten hired.”

So whether you are getting an unpaid or paid internship, it is still valuable to have to enter the workforce (most people’s ultimate goal after graduating).

Evaluate whether or not the school you are deliberating on will likely open you to many internship doors. Even though some students do find internships by themselves, there are a lot who find them from connections.

That could be through wealthy relatives or, a more likely possibility, professors who just happen to know someone who knows a high positioned official at Google. 

As for studying abroad, that is not really a necessary aspect of college, but it is something that a lot of students desire. If studying abroad were really important to me, I would look for colleges with good funding for study abroad trips. 

Too Suburban Or Too City Central

Both options provide different benefits for students. For example, Emory University has two campuses – one in the city of Atlanta and one about 35 miles from Atlanta.

The campus located in the city is called Emory College, and the other campus is Oxford College. As you probably thought, Emory College is going to have the feel of a city and come with the city benefits.

Emory University itself describes Emory College as a “fit for a student who values academic independence and intellectual engagement. Emory students benefit from having the resources of a dynamic research institution”.

Being near the city allows you to take advantage of the resources that a city has. Besides that, some people prefer the fast pace and constant activity of a city while others prefer a calmer, closer-knit community. 

That’s what the Oxford College campus is for. The Oxford campus is a good distance away from Atlanta and gives a liberal arts school feel. It is much less crowded and busy, so “Oxford students benefit from smaller classes, [and] personal interaction between students and professors”.

Most colleges don’t have one campus in the city and the other in a more green area. However, some colleges do allow you to go back in forth a little bit.

For example, UChicago isn’t located in the center of Chicago, but it’s not too far from the city. In fact, I remember there being a UChicago building located directly in the city.

You can stay in the beautiful, spread out campus for most of your time, but the city is right at your disposal, whether that is for an internship, class, or simply to enjoy the many delights of a city. 

You Don’t See Yourself As A Future Student At The College

Can you envision yourself walking out of the engineering building to the dining hall to meet up with some friends? Do you find yourself getting excited about joining a special program the college offers?

Those are the kind of questions I would ask myself when deciding whether or not I can see myself at this school. Some people call it a college of “best fit”.  

It is really hard to tell whether you are going to see yourself as a student at this school. In fact, some people come to realize this college works for them after a couple of years as a student.

I did an interview with Duhita, who is a current senior at Bard College. She only chose Bard because it offered the best financial aid for her. She wasn’t even planning on staying at Bard because Tulane had offered her a guaranteed second-year transfer.

Note: A second-year transfer is when a college allows a student to come into their school sophomore year, as long as they maintain good enough grades

However, by the time freshman year came to an end, Tulane didn’t give Duhita the aid she needed, and she actually came to like Bard. She said she believes that Bard is right for her, even though she didn’t see it at first.

So, if you can’t see yourself at this school, then that may be a warning sign on whether you should attend this school. But do not make it the driving factor in your decision.

If the college checks off most other boxes, then consider giving the college a chance. Aspects such as financial match, career opportunities (internships), and academic difficulty should be your priority. 

Last Thoughts

Choose your college carefully. It is a big decision that you need to take seriously, but don’t stress out too much.

Just decide what matters most to you (I would suggest prioritizing financial capability, career programs, academic rigor, and internship opportunities) and pick your college based on that. Good luck!

Related Article: Top Benefits of Not Going to College

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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