One of the most important aspects of identifying colleges to apply to and eventually attend is finding the right "college fit". A "strong fit" means that a college meets the majority of a student's needs and interests - academically, socially, and financially. To be clear, "college fit" matches colleges to the student, a student-centered approach, rather than molding the student to fit the colleges. The concept of fit is one that most parents didn't consider when applying to college, at least to the extent that it is emphasized today. So why has "college fit" become a concept that we as college counselors find to be so critical to the decision-making process?
1. Attending a "strong fit" colleges increases the chances that the student will be happy and thrive. A student who attends a college that meets his or her academic, social, financial, and extra-curricular needs is generally less stressed, happier, and better able to engage in learning - both inside and outside of the classroom.
2. Attending a "strong fit" college increases the chances that a student will graduate within 4-5 years. By starting at a college with a "strong fit", students are more likely to find majors and academic programs that meet their needs and interests. For example, a student who thinks he or she is interested in business but is not ready to declare that major when choosing a college, should still be considering colleges that offer business as an option. If a student decides to ignore this interest and instead focuses on a single college near the beach with many days of sunshine, he may be disappointed once enrolled to learn that business is not even offered at that college. This student is more likely to transfer, drop out, or spend several semesters switching among majors. A "strong fit" college offers academic options that the student thinks might be of interest.
3. Students entering a strong "academic fit" college are more likely to return for their second year of college. A recent study by the Strategic Data Project indicates that students who choose colleges that closely fit their academic levels are more likely to persist to the second year of college. Students who enter colleges where they are academically "overqualified" are more likely to not re-enroll for the second year. While reasons are unclear, it may be because the student transfers to a more challenging environment or drops out because they are feeling unchallenged. In contrast, a student with a collegiate expectation for a social-academic balance but attends a college where she is academically in the lower 25% of admitted students is likely to get frustrated from studying twice as hard to keep up in class, without much time left over for social and extra-curricular pursuits. This student is also likely to transfer, drop out, or remain frustrated through her collegiate experience.
4. Applying to "strong fit" colleges improves the decision-making process in spring of senior year. Students are famous for changing their minds, and the college decision process is no different. Students who research colleges through the personal lens of "college fit" and apply to a broad range of colleges that meet their academic, social, and financial needs are more likely to have great options to choose from spring of senior year. And even if the college that was #1 on their list in fall doesn't accept the student, there are several other colleges on their list that are excellent options. While the student may be disappointed that he/she wasn't accepted to their first choice, that disappointment is short-lived because of the other strong match college acceptances.
5. Focusing on "strong fit" increases the quality of the student's Apply List. Students who identify the particular aspects of college that fit them best are less likely to rely on what others think or say or on college rankings. A focus on fit empowers the student to search for colleges that meet his/her individual needs and wants.
6. A multifaceted approach to fit means the student is looking beyond "one dimension" of a college and is seeking colleges that meet a variety of academic, social, and financial needs. It's easy for students and families to get caught up in one aspect of college - the highly ranked basketball team, access to the beach, an active Greek system, warm and sunny weather, and even the "best" academic program available for their major. However, focusing on that one aspect can lead to disappointment. The basketball team no longer plays well, studying is so intense that they rarely visit the beach, friends aren't interested in the Greek system, and their major isn't exactly what they thought it would be. Students who focus on only 1 or 2 aspects and are disappointed when their expectations aren't met are more likely to struggle, be stressed, and not succeed. However, students who have focused on a multi-faceted approach to fit from the start have found a group of colleges that have a variety of facets that students are excited about. So he or she may be disappointed when one of their college activities or goals falls through, but because the college meets many of their other needs, this student can rebound and still thrive.
7. How does my student know what a "strong fit" college is for him/her? It starts with self-reflection. What is the student's learning style? Do they learn best in a discussion-based? Are they a hands-on learner? Or are they more of an independent learner? What type of atmosphere do they learn best in? What level of interaction with peers and professors in the classroom are they hoping for? Is an honors program in order to increase academic challenge? What are their hopes for learning opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom? Are they seeking more opportunities to get involved with socially conscious endeavors, research, and/or internships? Are freshmen learning seminars or communities important to help them transition to college? What is their level of independence and how far away from home is comfortable to them? The questions should go on and on. Did we mention it's a multi-faceted decision?
Our philosophy and services focus on "college fit". We want students to have well-matched options to choose from so they land at a "strong fitting" college where they can be successful, thrive, and graduate from. And isn't that the ultimate goal?