Finding Your Fit

Heading to College

This time of year you hear the horror stories of students getting rejection letter after rejection letter from colleges, adding fuel to the notion that it is more difficult than ever to get into college. While that may be true for the “name brand” schools, (Stanford’s boasting a 4.7% acceptance rate), there are plenty of good colleges out there for every student. It’s a matter of finding those schools, and unfortunately that’s where many students miss the mark.

Most often students choose colleges by what I call the 3 F’s: Family, Friends and Football. After all, that’s how they hear about schools. However, rarely do they give thoughtful consideration to whether a particular college is a good fit for them.

What makes a college a good fit? A school that meets the student’s needs academically, socially and financially.

Academic Fit

When it comes to academics most students go right to thinking about what they want to major in. The challenge is that many students have no idea what they want to study, and over 60% of students will change their major in college (often several times). So while area of study is important, it certainly should not be the only factor to consider.

Don’t overlook the importance of the learning environment. How do you learn best? Reflect on what you’re like in the classroom. Do you participate in discussions? Do you raise your hand if you have a question? Do you enjoy learning from your peers? If so, look for schools with smaller discussion-based classes. Perhaps you’re the type that sits quietly and processes information. Do you learn better by reading and taking notes? A lecture-style learning environment would likely suit you well.

Also consider the level of academic challenge that is right for you. Do you want to work hard and study hard? Are you disciplined? If yes, look for a more rigorous academic environment. Do you prefer to be at the top of your class? Does it stress you out if you don’t get an A? You may do better with less academic pressure.

Social Fit

My hope for students is that they find a place where they can be themselves, and discover themselves. When I went to college I felt like a fish out of water – and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone when they are taking their first leap into adulthood.

So how do you find a place you will eventually call home, and people who will eventually become like family?

It starts by knowing yourself and thinking about the characteristics you would like to see in your fellow students. Do you want a diverse student body? Would you prefer a liberal or more conservative environment?  Are you the outdoorsy type? Artsy? Free-spirited or traditional?

You are much more likely to be successful in college if you are around people you can connect with, in an environment that feels comfortable.

Financial Fit

Families often overlook the cost of college when choosing where to apply – which you can’t afford to do. (Sorry for the pun). Be realistic about what you can afford to pay for college. Students do not want to be burdened with excessive debt upon graduation, and parents do not want to greatly diminish their retirement nest egg. At the same time, don’t automatically take schools off your list because of the sticker price. Many colleges and universities have generous financial aid packages (that include grants and scholarships – free money!). Finding those schools will take some research but it is well worth it in the end.

The key to searching for schools is to identify your unique priorities for selecting a college using academics, social environment, and financial implications as a starting point. The good news is that there are many colleges that will fit the criteria. With careful research, students can have several options that feel like a solid match.