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How to Find the Right College For You Part 1: Good-fit Criteria

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

Take our advice: if you want to make your college application easier, apply to "good-fit" colleges. What's a good or best-fit university, and how do I find them, you ask? Well, let me show you our process. We've used this same methodology to help hundreds of students get into their favorite colleges. In this post, I will walk you through how to create a good-fit college list by starting at the beginning: defining your college criteria.

What is a Good-fit College List?

A good-fit college list is essentially a spreadsheet of colleges that are ranked on how well they fit what you are looking for as well as your chances of getting in. You've probably done something similar if you've ever gone shopping for a car.

This will be the first part of a 3-part series on building a good-fit college list. By following all the steps in this series, you should be able to walk away with all the tools you'll need to apply to 7-10 outstanding colleges.

Note We will release parts 2-3 in the next upcoming weeks. To learn precisely when parts 2-4 come out, click the button below.


Let me prepare you; this part is more challenging than many students expect. So START early.

College counselor talks to a local newport beach high school junior
We make excellent friends (and mentors) if you need someone to guide your exploration

Stage 1: Know Thyself

Building a good-fit list requires a deep level of understanding of yourself: who you are, how you work, and what you want. When we work with our students one-on-one, we assign them a flurry of surveys and assessments to determine what we call their "CVI":

Characteristics, Values, and Ikigai

Core Characteristics

These are your unchangeables, like your personality traits or how you learn. They are essential to understand because they dictate how well you will do at a particular college.

Imagine what it would be like if you were a student who was more of a "hands-on" learner surrounded by teachers who only taught abstract theories. Most likely, that student would not only be unhappy in their classroom, but their grades would also most likely suffer. Pretty frustrating, right?

The University of California system, for instance, applies more of a theoretical approach to learning. In contrast, California State University approaches learning from a practical side.

college list connecting to personality traits
We have lots of databases for which colleges help connect to different types of personality traits and different styles.


We ask our students what their college values are because students go to college for various reasons. Some value college because of intellectual challenges, whereas others for relationships and connections, and some want to prepare for a career. By tieing your values to your college search, you're more likely to come up with a list of options that will give you opportunities and careers that you'll value.

Did you know? Strive to Learn students are 7x more likely to get into their top colleges than their peers? Finding ways to match your CVI to the right colleges allows you to make your college application easier and boost your admissions chances.


Ikigai is a Japanese term that essentially translates to "reason for being." Still, it's much more complex than our equivalent of the word "passion" or "purpose ."It's connected to psychological terms like Flow, which is a pleasurable state of being in the moment as you pursue a challenge of skill in a major that you love. It involves what inspires you and what you are good at and identifying what the world needs. A good college experience will allow you to pursue your Ikigai to the possible fullest extent.

personality assessment of a high school student that is looking to find the right college for them
We help students find colleges that match their personality, interests, and that will help them contribute to their world.

Step 1: Make it actionable and discover your college values.

Colleges are like kitchen pantries: They may contain a lot of food, but unless you are starving (aka, you know what you want), you are more likely to walk away from the kitchen unsatisfied. So let's turn your educational degree into something more satisfying, right? Figure out what you value in a college by filling out an assessment created by Dr. Antonoff in his book College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School for You.


strive to learn student gets into uc berkeley and wears the school hoodie
Our student chose (and got into Berkeley) because of the vibe, weather, and major

Stage 2: Establishing Your Criteria


While you can keep the price of colleges in mind, don't get too sticker-shocked by the price tag that you see. Above and beyond free government aid (FASFA), there are scholarships that some students are automatically applied for when they submit their application, there are outside scholarships, BUT

more importantly, some schools have large endowments to give to the students that they want to see.

I'll say that again. Schools that give out merit aid will offer more significant scholarships to the students that they really want to attend their college (sorta like a bribe, but not really).

This is at the crux of why creating a good-fit list is so important. With a good-fit college list, you are more likely to get into that particular college AND get more significant scholarships.

For instance, our students at Strive to Learn were awarded $181,000 in FREE scholarships to attend their dream school. That's 4x more than the national average award for students.


We refer to the level of academic rigor you want from your higher education and what will help you achieve overall well-being in your future. We know several students who take super aggressive high school courses to only burn out. Other students love that sort of challenging and competitive environment.

Ask Yourself:

  • Do you want to spend your time studying all of the time, or do you prefer to balance?

  • Do you thrive under stress or highly competitive environments?

  • What kinds of programs do you want in a school? Research opportunities? Work programs that lead to a career?

Many students underestimate the level of academic rigor required in highly selective institutions. We've known several students who attended colleges in programs that had admissions rates of 3%, only to transfer the next year because the school wasn't an excellent fit for them after all. To hear a fantastic podcast that talks about the differences in academics and college (more for the senior's perspective, but it's a MUST).


Social-fit describes the qualities you want to see in the student body and the kinds of social activities that the college promotes. You'll want to find your flavor of people and ensure that the college encourages those activities through the various student programs they offer.

Ask Yourself:

  • What kinds of social groups do you fit in with?

  • What types of parties do you like to go to? Are they big ravers or more quiet gatherings?

  • What kinds of clubs or activities do you want to do with friends?

  • How inclusive of an environment (and student body) do you want?

Some colleges have more "spirit" (competitive vibe against other schools, big football games, etc.), whereas others have less. But we aren't going to sugarcoat the fact that racism and prejudice exist within select colleges and student bodies. And so you'll want to consider if college inclusivity is important, especially for first-generation, LGBTQA, black, brown, and women students. Many colleges have strong student groups where underrepresented or often marginalized groups can call home. However for students that want to be led and taught by predominately black role models and leaders, then perhaps a Historically Black College may be right for you.

Tip: To get a feel of the student body, download the Yikyak app when you are visiting their college campus.

By poking around in the conversations that are happening between students anonymously, you can get a sense of the campus culture and student body in a way that won't be advertised on a college campus website.

Regardless of your ethnicity, religion, or gender, you'll want to find a college that will help you feel safe and welcome.

Picture of text messaging between college students.
Not the best conversations, but it will give you a sense of the student body and campus culture


When considering all of your options, you'll want to consider the kinds of environments that inspire you and get you in the right frame of mind. You'll also want to think about the size of college you want to attend, whether it's in a large group setting or in small group discussions as well.

Ask yourself:

  • Where do you hate? If you are deathly afraid of tornadoes, don't go to college in the great plains. Hate humidity, hurricanes, and floods? Eliminate Florida from potential considerations.

  • Do you feel more comfortable in a crowd or overwhelmed by them?

  • What does your ideal campus look like?

  • Do you want to bike or walk around campus, or are you okay with taking a bus or a car?

Just look at the differences! All beautiful and all rad. It's just about what kind of college you find the most appealing

Step 2: Create your own college criteria

Now it's time to get into the nitty-gritty details by defining your ideal college environment. Let's face it, the school's environment is what makes or breaks a college experience.

What do I mean about the college environment?

What do we mean by "environment?" We are talking about academic offerings, class sizes, extracurricular activities (clubs, student organizations, sports), where the college is located (i.e., a college town, a super rural area, or in the middle of a vast city, to name a few), the makeup of the student body, school spirit and pride… and these are just some of the things that contribute to the college environment.

*Hot tip* one of the best ways to figure out what's right for you and what you might like is by knowing what you really don't like. Sit in a few classes at some local colleges to find out which ones you actually jive with.

If you are local to Colorado, check out these three campuses to get a feel of the difference.

Colorado College: Colorado Springs is a small, private school 2,025 undergraduates, classes are block scheduling, 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

University of Denver (DU) - Denver, medium, private school, 5700 undergraduates, classes run on the quarter system, 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio

University of Colorado Boulder (CU) - Boulder, large, public school, 30,300+ undergraduates, 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio

If you are local to Orange County in Southern California, check out these three college campuses to get a feel of the difference: Chapman University of California, Irvine Biola

*Note- when visiting schools, pay attention to how you feel when walking around each campus. What sparks your interest? What do you find exciting? What makes you uncomfortable? Identifying how you feel in different places at different times will say a lot about what you look for in a school.


Stage 3: Sorting your college criteria

When we work with students one on one, we synthesize all of their needs, their personalities, and their wants and already start pairing students with great colleges they may like. However, because no one college will have every single aspect of what you need, we ask students to sort their college criteria into different priority levels.

Step 3: Make it Actionable with Hierarchy

Now that you have all of this information, it's time to figure out which of these criteria are the most important to you by sorting how important those criteria actually are. I like to personally put all of my criteria on different flashcards and then sort them into piles of must Haves, Good to Have, Interested, and Deal-breakers. But you can also use this handy dandy worksheet instead. This will be the home base that you rely on as you continue to hone your criteria throughout this process.

Don’t rush this process because finding the right colleges is based upon having a better understanding of what you want and how that particular college fits those criteria. It is super important that you take your time to evaluate your interests, and also know that none of this is set in stone. If your feelings change, that’s okay, and it’s actually important to recognize and document those changes.

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll show you how to go about finding the colleges that match your interests and needs, so stay tuned!


Phew- okay, that was a lot, right? If you are like me, you may feel a little bit overwhelmed by the amount of information that you need to process and think about! And that's okay. One of the reasons parents and families come to us is that we make it 1000x easier. However, that does not mean that you can't do it on your own. It just may take a bit more time and effort, but you can do it.

So as a summary of what to do:

  1. Establish your College Values

  2. Make Your College Criteria

  3. Sort Your College Criteria into 3 different Hierarchies

Next, we'll cover how to go about researching and actually finding your colleges based on that criteria. So stay tuned in the following weeks.