Self-assessment is the critical first step in learning about whether a particular school is going to be right for you. All too often, people start out the search process focused on the importance of gaining acceptance to a specific school rather than on the important questions that need to be asked. Until you’ve spent time thinking about your own needs (academic, social, and emotional), you are not really ready to answer the question of whether a particular school is the right match for you. Once you have answered these questions, you will be better equipped to find the schools that reflect your values, needs, and interests.
Ask yourself why you want to go to college. Are you sure you want to go? Most of you who want to go, intend to go directly after high school, and, if really pressed, can even think of some good reasons to go. But before plunging into a year of deadlines, essay writing, and application decisions, you should ask yourself some questions. To a great degree, your admission to college depends not on what you will do this year and next, but on everything you have done in the last sixteen or seventeen years. But your attitude, energy, thoughtfulness and efficiency during this process will make a big difference and knowing what you want and why you want it will give you the enthusiasm and direction to make the whole business of applying to college an adventure rather than an ordeal. It should be an exciting process of self-discovery.
Think about the questions we discussed in our Junior Class Meetings. What makes colleges different from one another? How do those differences (things like location, size, and academic offerings) affect the college experience? And how might some of those differences make one school a better fit for you than another? An honest and thoughtful self-evaluation can reveal what qualities you should look for in colleges and prepare you for statements you will be asked to make about yourself in essays and interviews during the admissions process. If you are willing to look seriously at yourself, you can find the colleges that are right for you and present yourself effectively to them.
-from the Harvard Westlake School College Counseling Handbook