Finding the Right Fit

Spring has arrived and many of you are beginning to think about where you’re applying to college, but do you know why? It’s easy to select schools based on factors like campus beauty, location, or name brand.  But you need to dig deeper.  Aside from these superficial factors, why are these colleges a good fit for you?

You know how competitive it is to get into the college of your choice these days. But what you may not realize is that the increase in applications also increases the colleges’ uncertainty about who will actually accept their offer of admission. This makes it difficult for students to predict which schools will accept them… which, in turn, fuels more applications from these students… ultimately resulting in a spiraling loop which perpetuates even greater competitiveness in college admissions.

The only way to disrupt this vicious cycle and avoid being lost in the mix is to look beyond the components of your candidacy (grades, activities, test scores, letter of recommendation, etc.) to the details of your specific fit with each school to which you apply.

Imagine this:  An Admissions Committee is trying to decide between three qualified applicants from the same high school, all of whom have very similar grades, test scores and extracurricular involvement. One of the applicants never bothered to interview, even though the school recommends interviews.  Another wrote a generic essay about the beauty of the campus and the fact that his father had attended, but offered no specifics to indicate he had done any research on the place.  But the third applicant—you, let’s say– did it all:

  • you had the recommended interview where you discussed your interest in the college’s fledgling architectural studies program
  • you wrote a thoughtful, personally revealing essay that mentioned specific reasons why you are seeking admission
  • you visited campus and took a tour
  • you emailed the head of the architectural studies department and inquired about course selection for your freshman year
  • and you met with the admissions rep when he visited your high school

Which of these three hypothetical candidates gets admitted?  The answer is pretty clear.

The bottom line is that colleges want the kids who want them. They’re looking for institutional fit and “demonstrated interest.” * They want the kids who know who they are and know why the school is the right match for them. These are the freshmen who will not only enroll, but thrive and succeed and stay to graduate.

There’s another, even more important, side to this though: while it’s hard to imagine right now, you are going to attend college next year. Really. And shouldn’t you be sure that aside from the school’s reputation, gorgeous campus, sports teams, and sought-after location, it’s going to be a place where you’ll actually be happy?  And successful? And challenged? And discover new friends? And find the right balance between “work” and “play”? And grow?

Spend some time really thinking about why the schools on your list are the right matches for you. Research their programs and student organizations and faculty members. Study their curriculum.  Find out what students do for fun on the weekends.  Find ways to connect to students who currently attend and ask them questions. Visit.

Only then will you be ready to apply.


* US News and World Report’s data reveals that more than 68% of the nation’s top 100 colleges consider “demonstrated interest” in making their decision, and the 2011 State of College Admissions report by the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) indicates that its importance in admissions decisions has more than tripled since they began tracking it just seven years ago.  It is now considered more frequently than counselor and teacher recommendations, interviews, extracurricular activities, SAT Subject Tests, AP and other state exam scores.  

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