The Importance of Self-Assessment

The post-secondary institution you end up deciding to attend is going to be the place you will spend the majority of the next four years of your life.  If you honestly think about it, living on campus will mean that you spend more time at the institution than at home which includes going home for summers and holiday breaks.  So while there is no pressure, it is certainly important to find a place where you feel comfortable in the culture and will succeed academically.

Figuring out the best place for you means you need to focus now by asking yourself the right questions. Or as they say, conduct some self-assessment.  Really take a look into what interests you and what you hope to receive from your college experience.
For example, consider:

Distance from home

Academics – majors, internships, hands on experience, faculty

Extracurricular offerings – athletics, fine arts, etc.

Culture of the Campus – conservative or liberal, Christian or secular, etc.

Location – urban, suburban, rural, college town

My point, is that knowing what you are looking for in a school is going to allow you to avoid the “scatter-shot” approach that will have you applying to any school in any part of the country.  Doing some self-assessment is going to help you narrow your focus to schools in which you are seriously interested.

The key to quality self-assessment is asking good questions and being honest with yourself about the answers.  Here, I hope to provide you a starting point for your self-assessment that you can build on as you go.  Keep in mind that the questions I provide are not the “end-all be-all” of the discussion; some may not even apply to you.  Note: these do not need to be answered in any particular order or even answered at all if the topic is of no interest to you.

Remember when I said that you will be spending more time at the institution of your choice than anywhere else for the next four years? Well, how you answer this question is arguably one of the most important things you can think about because it will influence the rest of the questions. There are many ways you can approach the question and just as many ways to answer it. I will address it from a “Christian vs. Secular” standpoint because Grove City College is a Christian school and it is a choice all of our students face.

There are benefits to attending either a Christian school or a non-Christian school. The best way to help make your choice is deciding on which type of people you want to be surrounded with and what level of Christian influence do you want on the curriculum.

If you would like to be with people who have the same faith as you, then you may want to limit your search to Christian institutions. If you feel uncomfortable with a largely Christian atmosphere then you may not want to consider a Christian institution. That being said, strong Christians can still go to a non-Christian institution and maintain a strong faith but you may want to look into the support systems that are available to Christians on campus.

For this question there are three major answers: four-year school, two-year school, and vocational/technical/trade school. Each type of institution has its merits but how you answer this really comes down to your educational goals.

A technical/vocational/trade school is going to get you specialized training for a specific career, for example: welding, auto mechanic, hair and beauty stylist, etc. They are generally low cost institutions with an exceptional number of connections in the specific career fields they instruct. A technical/vocational school is going to be a great choice if you are interested in a specific trade.

A two-year school, or community college, is going to provide an Associate’s degree. Some Associate’s degrees are specific to their field and can get you right into that specific career (Surgical Technologist, etc.). Of course, if you only want a few business classes to get your feet wet to start your own business then a community college could be the way to go for you as well. This could also be a great option for you to get your general education requirements or improved grades to get into the four-year school of your choice. Think of it as an academic stepping-stone.

A four-year institution will generally award a Bachelor’s degree and provide more of the “traditional college experience” with more availability for on-campus housing and a larger assortment of clubs and activities.

This question is important for a number of reasons. Obviously, there is the physical size of the campus. Many large institutions feel like a city of their own with towering residence halls and sprawling academic buildings; a campus on which students can get lost—literally! On the flip side, there are any number of extremely small schools with a limited number of buildings that could hardly cover a city block. This question lends itself to the next question as well, discussing the LOCATION of your school interests. I suggest you think about how much walking you want to be doing when you go to class, dinner, the library, and the gym. A large school will have a lot of walking whereas a small school might have many of those buildings directly next to each other.

In addition to physical size, you should consider the size of the student body. Do you want to be one out of fifty thousand students or one out of a thousand students? Both have pros and cons that are largely dependent on your social and relational desires. Either way, you may want to think about how many academic compatriots with which you will surround yourself. This is especially important because it impacts class size and student/faculty ratio. If you really thrive with personal, hands-on attention then a smaller student body may be best for you but if you enjoy the large lecture hall style instruction then a larger student body could fit you best.

Grove City College is right in the middle in terms of campus and student body size. Our campus is roughly 170 acres with around 2500 residential students. I always like to say that it is “small enough for you to know everyone but big enough for you to meet someone new every day.”

Regardless of where you end up, however, your school is really only as big as you make it. It can be enormous if you get out and get involved or it can be the size of your dorm room if you never leave.

This is a multi-faceted question with just as many answers. Do you want to be living in the middle of a city with academic buildings surrounded by functioning buildings of the community, a rural town hours from “civilization,” or a school just outside the hustle and bustle of the city but close enough to enjoy the amenities? In which part of the country do you want to be located? Do you want to study full-time outside the United States? Would you like to have a major climate difference in hometown vs college town? All are valid questions that need to be asked.

Your answers to these questions are generally derived from both your hometown and where you want to live. Growing up in Smalltown, USA may not mean you will end up in a rural school if you have an interest in exploring a city, and vice versa. A decent answer to this question may take a little exploring. Try visiting a few cities or rural towns to decide what you like. Think back on any vacations or trips to different parts of the country. Did you like that area? Are you interested in a specific region that you have not visited? Maybe it is time to take a trip to that area. This could be coupled with a campus visit to a few schools. Campus visits and how to assess schools will be covered in an upcoming post so keep an eye open for it.

While this particular question is going to be the topic of a later post, it is still something you should begin thinking about as soon as you feel comfortable with it. To put it simply: The answer to this question is derived from a combination of your interests, passions, and career goals. Having a firm grasp on what interests you is going to help you find a program that will cater to those passions and, in theory, lay the groundwork for a career that incorporates them. The key is getting as much experience NOW versus waiting until college. There are a seemingly infinite number of programs, majors, and areas of study that you can pursue but you may never know about them if you never look or start talking with those in the profession now. The key is making sure you only consider the colleges who have ALL of the areas you are interested in. This will cut down on being disappointed and stressed when you decide and the school of your dreams does not have your major or have to transfer at a later date when you decide and the school does not offer what you feel called to do.


Asking yourself these questions throughout your college search will help. Trust me. They will help define for you where to start and where to make your final choice. The key is asking questions so do not be afraid to inquire about information.  If you need help, feel free to message or comment with a question and we can point you in the right direction.

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