It is a truth universally acknowledged that a large college in possession of a good rating must be in want of a student. Although Mrs. Bennett urged Lizzie to marry every time they met at the breakfast table or sat together knitting, my mother has been talking to me about college practically forever.  College was an evaluation of her parenting, just as Lizzie’s unmarried status was for Mrs. Bennett. What my mother failed to realize was the fact that more than 4000 amazing educational institutions exist in the United States, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. Picking colleges is much like finding a boyfriend: it requires communication, patience, and a lot of honesty.

I don’t know how many of us would want to go on a blind date without knowing anything at all. What if you have nothing to talk about? What if you guys have completely different backgrounds? What happens if he was searching for someone with a love for collecting toasters, Thoreau, and technology–and you’re not any of those things? Finding common interests before pursuing a relationship is natural, yet many people discount that as a part of college admission. It’s necessary to find out what kind of community a college establishes before agreeing to spend four years there. Some basic things to consider when beginning the college search are the size of the college, the location, and the programs offered.

I’ve never been good at deciding one thing that I absolutely loved. I have interests all over the place, from journalism to English to biology and even political science. As a city girl, I feel drawn to larger colleges in the middle of a city. Having internship opportunities as well as centers of culture were also things that I deemed as a must-have. Knowing a couple basic facts allows you to narrow down the search so only a 100 or so colleges come up instead of, say, 4000.

During junior year, almost everyone makes that all-important college trip. Having a first “get-to-know-you” moment in person can make all the difference in your perceptions. Although I had brushed this off as unnecessary, I was pleasantly surprised by how informative visiting a college was. The hour long informational session does give you good tips about what the college is looking for, but the highlight was seeing the community built around the college. After all that initial research of the programs and famous alumni you’ve done, it’s time to ask yourself the million dollar question: can you imagine yourself here?

The worst thing to do is to get yourself in the “top 10 university complex” as I like to call it. A good college name doesn’t mean everything, as my parents learned through research and college presentations. Each college has a focal point and the most important thing is to have your personality match up with the college. Spending four years at a place you aren’t happy in is a waste of time. Just because a college has a good name or good ranking on USA Today doesn’t mean it’s where you should be. It’s definitely not worth lying to an admissions officer or on your Common App essay in order to be someone else. Although the college admissions process seems daunting and tedious, college admissions officers are really just trying to find the people who will be a good match for their environment and school. If you cheat system, you’re only really cheating yourself. Put all that effort instead into finding a school that you like for reasons beyond its ranking.

Researching a college is one of the most important parts about the college application process. Never be afraid to send some emails to college admissions officers or talk to current university students to really a get a picture of what the college is like. The most important thing is to find some place you’ll be happy at. Happiness isn’t contained in a ranking, no it’s much more than that.

By Lizzie Bennett