“The benefits and predictors of a good education are knowable yet virtually impossible to measure.”

“Colleges can be assessed, but not ranked. Students can be evaluated, but not measured.”

― The Education Conservancy – www.educationconservancy.org (PDF: “WE ADMIT…GUIDANCE FROM THOSE WHO DO”)

If prestige is an illusion when it comes to choosing colleges, as I suggested in my post, “Rethinking Prestige,” how do you choose colleges? After all, considering what schools are the right choices for application is a pretty important decision. One that should not be taken lightly.

Replacing “Prestige” With “Fit”

Some may say: “Come on, what really is “fit”? That sounds just as illusionary as prestige.”

Asking what college fit is, is similar to asking what love is.

I typically tell students that they will know if a college is a fit when they feel it. In other words, when they read about a school, visit, or engage with it themselves, they will know which one fits them. Of course, let me be clear, fit is not the exact same as falling in love. I’m not so foolish as to attempt to define love. Fit, on the other hand, can be broken down into a few broad, specific areas.

3 Foundational Factors to Finding a College “Fit”

To determine if a college is a fit for you personally, you must ask yourself three fundamental questions about the school.

“Am I an academic fit for this college?”

In particular, consider if your academic records fall within the range of typically admitted students for this college. If your grades and test scores do not lie inside the average range, the school does not fit you.

“Can I afford this college?”

College costs vary. So do different families ability and desire to pay for college. Therefore, just as you may not be able to afford an expensive sports car, you may not able to afford every school, no matter how much you would like to go there. If a college is not within your financial means, it is not a good fit for you.

“Will I truly be happy studying at this college for four or more years?”

Or, perhaps, more pointedly, ask yourself: “Can I identify specific reasons why I would be happy at this school?”

For instance, you may say to me, “I desperately want to go to [insert name] university because it is such a great school. And I would be so happy to go there.” But can you provide specific reasons why some of the things this school offers—academic choices, environment, size, the personality of the campus, or student body—excites or motivates you and fits with who you are or who you would like to be? If not, you are probably relying on prestige for making your choice.

If your focus on is your externally-influenced perception that it is a great school, then it is not a good fit for you.

Finding “Fit” Is Elusive

Answering the questions above to narrow down the thousands of colleges and universities in the United States for those that fit is not easy. It is not unusual that a student will say to me, “Okay, so I have narrowed it down to about 100 schools. They all seem to fit me, but I do not think I am any closer to knowing where to apply.”

Of course, this student would be right—they cannot apply to 100 different colleges. My advice is to narrow down the list to about 10 that fit the student and seem like good places to apply based on answering the three questions above. So, how do you get from 100 to 10?

Well, it is a quirk of this process that there indeed may be more than 10 colleges that fit a student. And, therefore, there is often no correct answer to which to discard and which to keep. But getting advice from family, trusted teachers and counselors, or an independent educational consultant can help weigh the pros and cons to narrow down the list to not simply those that fit but those make sense putting on a list of schools to which you apply.

More choices than you need is a good problem to have. Ultimately, if you are applying yourself to this process by looking at colleges honestly, earnestly, and thoroughly—in conjunction with good professional advice along the way—you will know what colleges fit you, just like you would know when you found a place to call home.

If you would like further assistance with college selection, I would be happy to offer my services as an experienced Independent Educational Consultant to help you find the school that best fits you. Please contact me at your convenience.