Mythbusters: The Perfect College

By Tom

I love autumn. It’s my favorite season of the year. The brisk days, the changing leaves, apple cider… it’s an exciting and invigorating time. And now that I’m working in college admissions, autumn brings back fond memories of my own senior year in high school – the campus visits, the final decisions of where I would apply, and the act of actually, really, truly applying to college.

They say that when you visit colleges, you’ll eventually walk onto a particular campus and have that “click” moment when you realize that this place is the right fit, the perfect school. In fact, I hear a lot of people talking about this experience – I think it’s become part of college admission lore (right alongside the story that community service trumps any other form of involvement and that the FAFSA determines how much financial aid you receive). As with any lore, there is some truth and some myth to it. In this case, I think it’s true for some people and not true for others.

I never had that sort of “click” experience in my own college search process, nor did I identify one single “perfect school” for myself. Instead, I visited a number of campuses that I liked, where I could definitely see myself fitting in and thriving. And if that’s your story, let me reassure you that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

In fact, there are a lot of advantages for those of us who don’t find the perfect school: we can keep our options open, weigh advantages and disadvantages, and see what the application process brings us. For me, financial aid ultimately became a significant factor in my decision, and that was totally okay, since I could see myself at any number of colleges and allowed finances to help narrow my options.

Now, don’t get me wrong – some of you will definitely have the “click” moment and find your one top school. And I hope that for many of you, that school will be the University of Richmond! Early Decision can become a great option for students who are 100% sure of where they want to be, and there is something very exciting about having that moment and knowing you have a runaway first choice.

I should note, however, that I don’t ultimately believe there is such a thing as one single, perfect school for anyone, even those who are 100% sure of a top choice (there’s an important distinction between a top choice and a perfect school). There are hundreds of excellent institutions of higher education across this country and beyond, and you can receive a great education – and truly fit in – at any number of them. I firmly believe this. Even if you identify one top choice school, you have to recognize that colleges also have to make decisions about who they feel is best suited for their campuses. I don’t mean to be a downer, but I would point out that I have heard dozens of stories of students who don’t get into their top choice (“perfect”) school and instead find themselves perfectly happy and excited at another – in fact, exceptions to this are rare in my experience. It’s important that you always remain open to different options at the most basic level.

So is the perfect school a reality? No. Instead, I think it’s a reality that some students have a “click” moment and identify the one place they most want to be, and that some students don’t. And I think both are entirely valid experiences.


  1. jay
    Posted October 6, 2008 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    where are you now, tom??

  2. Tom
    Posted October 9, 2008 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jay,

    I started writing this entry on a plane from Denver to Albuquerque, and it was posted from my hotel room in Albuquerque. But I’m now writing this comment from a Panera in Detroit. I have been all over the country in the past three weeks, and looking forward to getting home to Richmond tonight.

    Panera, incidentally, is my best friend on the road, since I can get a healthy meal AND free wi-fi.

    And let me throw in a shout-out to all the phenomenal students I’ve met in Colorado, New Mexico, and Michigan. Y’all rock!

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  1. […] search does not end with the discovery of one top-choice school (this was the case for me; see my post from last year on “the perfect college”). But for some the search does end this way. Some students […]

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