Recently one of my student clients shared with me that his ideal college is Humboldt State University, located in Eureka, CA. Curious as to how a Denver native came to fix on a school in northern California, I asked him how he developed such a far-flung goal. He didn’t have a firm response, beyond the vague notion that they have a strong biology program, one of his interests.
Having visited Eureka a couple of times, I shared with him that it reminds me of Boulder in a way – a smaller, even more granola version of Boulder, and with a weirdly fractured population dominated by students, faculty and staff associated with the college, and loggers, who are attached to the awe-inspiring nearby redwood forest. All of this was news to Will, and at the moment I’m not sure if these impressions increased or diminished his interest in the school.
This conversation reminded me of myself, more than 30 years ago, as I considered my college options. For a time I was obsessed with Syracuse University, for reasons that escape me now. I imagine I read something that made it seem cool. I then became focused on Antioch College, much closer to home for me as a native of southern Ohio. I was intrigued by its progressive reputation, and I knew a bit about their co-op programs, which had students off campus doing seemingly fascinating things for long stretches of their enrollment. This lasted until my mother proclaimed “You will attend a communist college over my dead body!” – so … so much for Antioch. Ohio State offered me a small scholarship, and thus ended my brief period of college hunting.
Students today have more college choices and more help in identifying their “right fit” college, I’m happy to say. These include guidebooks readily available in libraries, bookstores and school guidance offices; school guidance counselors themselves, who know a lot, but who often are overburdened with large numbers of assigned students, especially at public high schools; electronic search programs such as Naviance, which invite a student to input key information in exchange for a list of probable matches derived from published data; and independent consultants, such as myself. An advantage of independent consultants is the personalized attention received by student clients, paired with in-depth, first-hand knowledge of many colleges and universities.
A good independent consultant considers her or himself a student of colleges, and has direct information about scores of schools across the U.S., as well as contacts at many of those schools, and of course access to information regarding features of those schools and their admissions’ policies. My clients will benefit from my 20 years in higher education administration and direct knowledge of colleges as disparate as Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, Bates College in Maine, Denison University in Ohio, Millsaps College in Mississippi, and Occidental College, in Los Angeles. I continue to visit and study colleges with an eye to what about them may be of interest to my clients.
Will hasn’t taken his SAT exams yet, so our investigation of schools is at a beginning stage, but soon he will have a more definite notion of whether he is truly interested in Humboldt State as a result of our explorations together.
More on “right fit” colleges in Part II, forthcoming.
Lisa Ransdell is a college faculty member, former higher ed administrator, and head of a college-search consulting firm, Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC, www.pinnacle-educ.com.