For any given student, the “right” college match is largely a matter of a good fit between interests/aspirations, intellectual aptitude and learning style, and the total campus environment, both academic and social.
There are unquestionably multiple “right fits” for each student, some never to be considered given the large number of U.S. colleges (there are nearly 4000 colleges nationwide, over half of which are baccalaureate degree-granting institutions), and the likelihood that most students will primarily be familiar with schools in their region as well as some of the well known standouts, such as the infamous Ivy League subset of colleges. When one conceptualizes the college search as a matching process that has identifiable outcomes of interest to students and families, it becomes clear that many schools can equally yield a stimulating and enriching environment, solid preparation for the future, memorable experiences, and a lifelong set of friends.
Here’s an eye-opening little truism: students may be surprised to learn that many lesser ranked schools have placement rates for grad school and medical school equal to or even better than their more expensive, higher profile institutional counterparts. The same thing is true of job placement as well.
So how is a student to narrow the field and decide which schools to apply to? It makes sense to establish personalized priority factors, and to create a list of schools of interest based on these. Key characteristics for matching might include: proximity from home, size of the student body, academic rigor and reputation, faculty-student ratio, strength in a particular academic program of interest, social options available on campus, athletics, opportunities for involvement in special programs like study abroad and internships, and others. Since every college publishes information on their strong points as well as basic, comparable characteristics, it shouldn’t be hard to begin to narrow your list.
An additional important factor for students once they arrive at the campus visit stage is the FEELING of fit – Do you feel comfortable on the campus, do you feel that this would be a pleasant place to spend four years of your life? Did you like the students you met, the professors you conversed with? If you spent the night in a dorm on campus (a good idea, by the way), do you believe you would enjoy the residence life experience at the school?
Of course not every college will accept you, in many cases due to no deficiency on your part. If you don’t fit a school’s admissions profile, if they’ve already accepted lots of students who demographically and academically resemble you, or if it’s a highly selective college and you are merely one of many strong, equally interesting applicants, you may not get a bid. This is more likely at the moment, when the applicant pool is larger than it’s been in a long while at U.S. colleges. But no worries – there are schools that will fit you beautifully where you WILL be accepted, where you may even be courted with an attractive financial aid package.
Helping students find their right fit school and helping them put their best foot forward to increase the likelihood of admission is something I love doing, as it’s an incredibly satisfying form of matchmaking (better than eHarmony and Match.Com!). There aren’t many more fulfilling pursuits, in my book, than helping young people launch one of the most important and enjoyable experiences of their lives.
Lisa Ransdell is a college faculty member, former higher ed administrator, and head of a Denver-based college-search consulting firm, Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC, www.pinnacle-educ.com.