Finding the Right College Fit

Finding the Right College Fit
by Christopher Stack
July 17, 2019

Everyone tells you to find the right fit when you are searching for colleges. What does that even mean? 

Prospective student-athletes should search for a school that will provide them with the best college experience academically, athletically, and socially. But how do you find it?

There are many factors that go into finding the right college fit. Each prospective student-athlete is unique and they need to find what is best for them. A common mistake by many prospective student-athletes is they will begin the college recruiting process by looking at the athletic programs before looking at the school. You will have a better chance of finding the right school by first looking at what each school has to offer, academically and socially. There are thousands of colleges and universities to choose from if playing your sport is important to you then there is a school out there that fits what you are looking for in your college experience. 

So let’s take a look at the three perspectives of a high school student

  • Student

  • Teenager

  • Athlete


At this point in your life you have been attending school for most of your life. As a student, you know how it works. You attend classes, read, take notes, write papers and take tests. College is no different except the expectations are greater. In college you have the ability to do more free thinking, express your opinions, and defend your beliefs. As you search for the right fit academically you should keep these questions in mind as you navigate through the process.

  • What type of learner are you?

  • What subjects do you do well in and what subjects do you struggle with? 

  • Classroom environment: Do you do well in lecture classes, discussion classes or labs? 

Knowing the answers to these questions can help you identify what type of academic environment you may be looking for. 

Are you looking for a well rounded liberal arts education or are you looking for a more straight-forward approach to your education? Would class sizes affect how you learn? 

Personally, that was a major factor in my college search process. I needed smaller class sizes where I had the opportunity to interact with my professor and classmates in a smaller group setting. I knew that I would have never survived a school where I had to sit in large lecture halls listening to a professor speak for an hour. But like I said earlier, every student is unique so you need to discover what environment best suits you to learn and grow.

In addition, the areas of study you may be interested in will affect your college search process. Yes, most schools have the popular majors like business, science, and education. Are you interested in a more specific major like engineering or oceanography? If so, that can quickly narrow your college/university options. 

The academic side of the college search process is very important. Remember playing intercollegiate athletics is an experience that provides student-athletes the opportunity to excel in a sport they love while building an educational foundation for their future.

Social Life

College is intended to provide students an experience. It is the place where you develop and become the person you will be for the rest of your life. Your world will be exposed to new ideas, you will make new friends, and you will have successes and defeats along the way, it is all part of the college experience. This may be the most important part of the college search process. It is this aspect of college where you will ultimately love your decision or regret your decision. And we don't want you to regret your decision. There are many factors that are involved in finding a school that fits your social preferences. 


  • How far away from your home are you willing to travel? 

  • What are your travel options, is it a car ride away, or a train, or do you need to take a plane. 

  • Do you want your family to be able to see you play live as much as possible?

  • Do you want to be close enough where you can go home and get a home cooked meal or do some laundry? On top of that do you want to be close enough where your family can just stop by when they please? 

  • Do you dislike cold weather and would like to go to a warmer climate, or are you a cold person who like to ski or snowboard. As a DI athlete these activities may be frowned upon from the coach because they can result in injury. 

  • Campus Setting: Size and Setting

Do you want to be a small fish in a big pond or big fish in a little pond? There are thousands of schools in all different shapes and sizes. There are Division I schools that have an undergraduate enrollment of 1,000 and schools that have over 50,000 students. There are schools located in the heart of a metropolitan area, center of a small town, or nestled on the side of a mountain. 

  • Extracurricular Activities:

  • What is there to do on or around campus?

  • Are you interested in the Greek Life? 

  • Do they have big time athletics program? 

  • Are there clubs or other organizations you can join?

The social aspect of the college search process may be the most important. The only way to experience this part of campus is to visit while classes are in session. If you are fortunate enough to be able to have an overnight visit at an institution please do it. There is no substitute for experiencing a day in the life of a student-athlete. 


Now that you have created a list of schools that match your academic and personal /social preferences, now it’s time to turn your attention to the athletics side , the reason this process started from the beginning. 

Level of Competition

  • Are you looking for an athletic scholarship, then DI, DII, and NAIA are your best options. If you are interested in pursuing DI opportunities, are you looking at schools in the major conferences (AAC, ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) or are you looking at mid-major schools? 

  • Are you looking to continue to play competitively but not the full year round commitment then DIII may be a better option for you.

Athletic Program

  • Who are the coaches? Do you feel comfortable with your interactions with them? 

  • What are the athletic facilities like? Could you see yourself competing on those facilities? 

  • What is the current roster make-up? Are their a lot of graduating seniors in your class? Is there a lot of roster turnover from year to year? If, so that could be a red flag. 

  • What is the success of the team? Is it traditionally a winning program or is it a program that is rebuilding. 

  • How important is playing time to you? Are you looking for an opportunity to play immediately or are you willing to bide your time and work for playing time? 

Are you ready to start trying to find you right college fit? Start by building an initial list of at least 20-30 schools of all different shapes and sizes. Research Schools, research programs, and contact college coaches. Keep the door open to all opportunities throughout the process. In order to find the right college fit, you need to know what questions to ask, and what information you need to discover. 

Grab the Designing Your Pathway to College Sports workbook and use the 50 questions every recruit should answer before committing to a school.

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