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36 Questions to Find Your Dream School

Feb 12, 2024

In 2015, The New York Times published an article titled “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love.” Based on the work of psychologist Arthur Aron, the piece suggested that asking another person deep and meaningful questions (and offering honest answers in response!) can lead to love.

While our version of this popular story won’t land you a Valentine’s Day date, it may just lead you to the college of your dreams.

We believe that a similar process of honest, rigorous inquiry can lay the foundation for determining which college or university will be a perfect match for you. These 36 questions can serve as a starting point for you to research schools on your list and prepare for your college visits this spring. Bring any unanswered or intriguing questions along as you visit your top schools and seek out faculty, students, and admissions officers who are willing to share their honest thoughts about how their institution might align with your skills, interests, and desires for the next four years of your academic journey!

Like the original article on which this post is based, questions are separated into three sets, gradually increasing in their complexity or detail.

Set I: Your Preferences

  1. Would I prefer to attend a large university with a significant student population or a smaller college with a tight-knit community?
  2. What academic subjects or fields of study am I most passionate about?
  3. What type of campus environment best suits my personality and lifestyle?
  4. How important is location to me? Am I drawn to urban, suburban, or rural settings?
  5. What are my financial considerations, including tuition, scholarships, and cost of living?
  6. What extracurricular activities or clubs do I hope to participate in during college?
  7. What support services, such as tutoring or counseling, are essential for my academic success?
  8. What are my priorities regarding campus amenities, such as housing, dining, and recreational facilities?
  9. How do I prefer to learn—through lectures, seminars, hands-on projects, co-ops, or a combination of approaches?
  10. Am I interested in attending a single-gender institutions?
  11. Would I be interested in attending a faith-based institution?
  12. Am I interested in joining a sorority or fraternity in college?
  13. Do I want to pursue athletic recruitment in college, and if so, in what division would I like to play?
  14. How important is a vibrant sports culture to my college experience, and what level of involvement do I envision having in athletic events?

Set II: The College’s Distinct Characteristics

  1. What programs does this school offer that align with my skills and passions?
  2. What opportunities for internships, research, or study abroad programs are available at this school?
  3. What type of campus does this school have, and does it align with my preferences regarding location, size, and proximity to home?
  4. What is the student-faculty ratio, and how accessible are professors outside of class?
  5. What is the makeup of this school’s student body, and will I feel that my identity is represented among my peers?
  6. How accessible are campus resources, such as libraries, laboratories, research institutes and technology centers?
  7. What is the college’s reputation or ranking in my intended field of study or industry?
  8. What is the school’s retention rate and graduation rate?
  9. How does this college support students’ mental health and well-being?
  10. What resources and accommodations are available for students with disabilities or special needs, and how do they contribute to an inclusive and supportive campus environment?
  11. What financial aid options and scholarships are available to me, and how do they impact my decision?
  12. What role does campus culture play in fostering a sense of belonging and community?
  13. How do the college’s athletic programs and facilities contribute to campus life and student engagement?
  14. How do Greek organizations contribute to students’ social networks and sense of belonging on campus, and what opportunities exist for personal and professional growth within (or outside of) these communities?
  15. What opportunities exist for involvement in community service and volunteerism?
  16. How do alumni networks and career services support students’ post-graduation aspirations?

Set III: Diving Deeper

  1. How do I envision my college experience shaping my personal and professional growth over the next four years and beyond?
  2. How does this college’s values and mission align with my own beliefs and goals?
  3. How does this college demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility, community engagement, and global citizenship, and how do these initiatives align with my desire to make a positive impact on the world?
  4. How does this institution foster diversity of thought and encourage respectful dialogue?
  5. How do current students and alumni describe the campus culture in their own words?
  6. What ultimately feels like the right fit for me—a gut feeling that transcends data and statistics?

For more information and guidance on finding the right school for you, check out our comprehensive guide to creating a balanced college list!

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