The Ivies-a nick name that has become shorthand for excellence, tradition, and exclusivity, a kind of synecdoche of success. It is easy to get caught up in the glittering promises of those ivory towers, to get swept up in the heritage, and to fall madly in love.

The problem with falling in love with things that glitter, is that not all that glitters is gold. And sometimes what may seem like love, is actually just lust.

If you’re after exclusivity, there are in fact schools that are even more selective than Ivies. For as notoriously hard as it is to gain entrance to an Ivy League school, a recent piece by Business Insider identified schools that are even more selective.

But exclusivity shouldn’t be the measuring stick by which you decide where to spend the next four years. Neither should the reputation you think the school may have, nor the bragging rights granted by the fancy car decal. The place you should be going is the one you feel you belong, the one you feel you can be accepted for who you are, the one that will feel like home. In other words, the one that is your true love. 

So how do you determine when its college love or when its college lust?

You’re on the wrong track if:

  1. You’ve spent the weekend visiting, but it feels kind of “meh”—it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed when you’re on a campus visit. Colleges may be really big (or gasp! So small!). There are a lot of new faces and too much information. But if after spending the day on campus the school isn’t pulling at your heart strings, then it probably isn’t home.
  2. Your program isn’t there—what happens if the school you think you should go to doesn’t offer the major you need? Do you settle for the lesser program or one that is close enough? College is a pricey commitment; why put all that time and money towards an area of study that isn’t going to leverage your learning experience?
  3. You want to graduate for the wrong reasons-you are dying to graduate from the school, not go to the school. Four years is a really long time to slog through somewhere. If you don’t love your time there, you may not actually make to the finish line.
  4. You’re balking at the price tag-Ivies are really pricey. Astronomically. Laughably. If you’re just going for the name and you’re not sure that you’re going to be running Goldman Sachs in four years, maybe consider something less prohibitive.
  5. It’s too rural (or too busy)- If you love cities, a school in the middle of nowhere is going to put you to sleep. If cosmopolitan hotspots like NYC give you high blood pressure or panic episodes, city life isn’t for you. Rural or urban, make sure it works with what you need at this point in your young life.
  6. You want Greek life and it isn’t there (or vice versa)- If you think college is nothing without the Animal House lifestyle, don’t choose a school without a strong Greek system. If you find Greek life unappealing, a college that isn’t dominated by frats and sororities could be more of your cup of tea.
  7. The weather brings you down- If you crave year-round sunshine, dry heat, Palm trees and warmth, New Haven, Connecticut or Princeton, New Jersey just might do you in. It might seem frivolous, but winter is long. Don’t pick a school where the seasons will get you down.

But you’re probably getting warmer if:

  1. The college matched you academically- You want to be challenged in college, but being in over your head is stressful. Likewise, if your academic ability is much higher than other students, you may feel bored or out of place.
  2. The college is affordable to you and your family-Talk to your parents openly about what is and what is not a feasible expense and then consider whether or not you will have to take on a share of the expenses. Be realistic and be open-minded. The less you have to pay for college, the better return you will get on your investment. Cost shouldn’t be the only thing you consider when choosing a college, but it should cross your mind.
  3. The college will help you where you want to go- Presumably, you’re going to college to help you reach your goals. A college that’s a good fit will live up to this description. First, make sure a college offers your major (if you already know what you want to study). Second, research the program at the college. Does the program incorporate research with a professor? Are there internship opportunities through the program? Do the courses look interesting to you? Make sure you’re getting into a program that is exciting, challenging, and will help you grow as a student–and as a person!
  4. The college “feels right”-A college has to feel like home to you-you’re going to be spending most of your four years there, after all. A lot goes into “feel” equation, including geographic location, size/type of the college, and social atmosphere. Some students also take campus diversity, sports, and distance from home into account. Only you know which combination of these things will make you happy–listen to yourself.

The very best way to figure out if it’s love or lust is to take a campus tour. Being immersed in the college for just a few hours can make a significant impact on your feelings about it. Once you’ve narrowed down your college list, consider visiting several of them.

See if there are overnight programs available or if you can sit in on a class. The more time you can spend on a campus, the better you will be able to determine whether a college is gold or glitter.