What Do We Mean By Fit?

College counselors have one mantra:  we find the best “college fit” for your student.  But what does fit mean, and how do we go about it?

“Fit” is a vague term which means different things to counselors, parents, and students.  Consider some of the commonly used criteria for evaluating a potential match between a college and a student:

  • Opportunity to learn (not just the acquisition of knowledge, but “learning how to learn”)
  • Availability of certain fields of study, and the strength of same compared to other colleges
  • Quality of professors, both in terms of knowledge and general likeability
  • Average time to graduation
  • Job prospects upon graduation
  • Best choice of graduate schools upon graduation (which is not quite the same thing as job prospects)
  • Availability of internships and co-ops (a longer form of internship which offers a better chance of winning a job offer from the company)
  • Likelihood of graduating (because if you do not graduate, the rest does not matter much)
  • Socialization (opportunity to acquire social skills, and even marital prospects)
  • Availability of on-campus housing for some, or all, years of attendance, and the condition of same.
  • Cost of attendance and availability of financial aid
  • Availability and affordability of study abroad
  • Quality of surroundings (e.g., most students will prefer California to North Dakota)
  • Likelihood of gaining admission

Some of these criteria involve several variables.  For example, the cost of attendance may depend upon the match between the academic performance of the student and the college’s targeted demographic.  Simply put, a student who is more “attractive” to a particular college may receive a significant amount of “merit aid” not offered to students with weaker academic credentials.  Thus, a student with an A average and a 1300 SAT (reading and math) score might receive no aid from Johns Hopkins, a full tuition waiver from a local public college, or a reduction in tuition from out-of-state to in-state rates at a school like the Ohio State University.

College counselors use interviews and questionnaires to obtain information about the student which helps tease out which colleges might provide the best match.  Then the hard work begins of deciding which of the factors listed above should weigh most heavily for the particular student, and selecting colleges accordingly.

Some of that work is based on the counselor’s prior experience with potential “match” colleges.  Many consultants visit over 20 colleges a year, and more than a few have visited hundreds in their lifetimes.  These counselors can develop a “mental database” of information which helps them sort quickly through the over 2,000 four-year colleges nationwide.

But therein lies a problem.  Nobody can visit over 2,000 colleges.  Further, the information gleaned from such visits can become dated.  Like any institution, colleges change with the times.  Key people leave; policies change.  Recently, facing tight budgets, colleges are limiting enrollment in certain “impacted” majors, or even cutting departments wholesale.  Even if colleges highlighted such information during counselor visits (they don’t), counselors would not have timely information unless they visited each school every year – which is impossible.

This is why there is growing interest among counselors in using the Internet to tap information about colleges.  This is my specialty, and I discuss it in more detail in my next post (“The Data Is Out There – But You Need To Look For It”).

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