Monday morning Q & A: How do we find the right fit?

Lisa asks:

“We are finding it hard to get a true feel for each college. We’ve researched, visited, and googled, but we still can’t really tell what makes one school different from another. Any suggestions for resources or how to get the real vibe/true story. We have prioritized fit, but now find ourselves having trouble identifying it!”

First of all, kudos to your family for focusing on fit–not necessarily prestige, rankings, or other arbitrary measures—during your college search. That intention is actually far more important than ultimately finding what appears to be the right fit in any one school, for several reasons.

“Fit” can be a misleading term in the college admissions process, a problem I may exacerbate a bit by using the term so often here. There is no such thing as one perfectly “fitting” college for any one student. High school counselor Brennan Bernard describes this well in his piece “Six Terms To Stop Using In College Admissions.

“Fit’ is one of the most overused terms in college admission, and while the intentions are admirable, it can be misleading. By emphasizing ‘fit,’ educators try to move students and families away from a focus on selectivity, rankings or the notion that admission to college is a prize to be won. However, it can often be misunderstood as suggesting that there will be one school that fits perfectly like a glove, and it can be intimidating to students when this type of fit eludes them.”

We’ve worked with thousands of students at Collegewise who’ve found collegiate bliss at hundreds of different schools. But plenty of those students weren’t able to identify the one perfect fit before they signed on the dotted line. Their advantage was that they increased their odds of a successful outcome by identifying what was important to them in a college, searching for schools that matched that criteria, and then using a combination of information, good advice, and gut instinct to make the leap. Like the search for the right life partner, fit tends to reveal itself during, not necessarily at the beginning of, a relationship.

Lisa, there are plenty of other resources you could use, but they aren’t inherently better than what you’re already doing. And they’ll likely just get you more of what you’re already accessing plenty of—information. So instead of looking more deeply or broadly to find colleges that fit, consider (re)defining a college that fits as one about which your son can say:

“Based on what I know about myself right now and what I hope or expect to gain from my college experience, this school and its environment seem like a place where I could be happy and successful.”

The predictable punchline: there will likely be lots of colleges, both selective and not, about which that statement will be true. If that happens, it doesn’t mean that you’re failing in your search. It means that you’re doing everything right. Find comfort and reassurance in the fact that you’ve raised a good kid who can likely find his place at dozens of different colleges. And remember that unless he applies in a binding early decision program, he’ll have until May of his senior year to select between what will likely be plenty of great, likely-to-fit options.

Thanks for your question, Lisa. I’ll answer another one next week. You can submit yours for consideration here.