How to choose the right fit? How do I go about making a college list? My school uses Naviance, and my counselor has pulled up a selection, but none of the schools on it are what I imagine myself attending, so what do I do?
All legitimate questions for the rising senior in high school and his or her parents. How does someone figure out how to best choose a college? In recent years, there have been a lot of people who have approached the situation without any control. Meaning, they allow the school counselor to make the list, and what is on it, is what they apply to, and then they select when they get acceptances. I strongly urge everyone to not take such a passive stance. I also strongly suggest people get OUTSIDE support for college selection. Understand that most school counselors have a lot of their plates and they do heavily rely on systems and assists for choice. One of the most popular is Naviance™. However, often these system generated options are not at all close to what you envision. This is not unusual.
An outside perspective can give you more of a complete picture within your entire geography. Naviance is tailored to the current school. So its draw is based on the statistics input by the school, which may or may not be true for your geography. What do I mean by this? I will give you two cases to consider.
One: a very affluent suburban school, which has mostly double income, highly educated parents. These parents have undue influence and factors that can sway the options for their children. One reality is that money does, in fact, influence. So perhaps the Naviance system shows some schools, which are considered rather difficult and elite, as a possible or likely for your child. Is this true? Probably not. The statistics of the students might be average but a high percentage of students from that school get in due to factors such as legacy, giving, etc.
A second case is diametrically opposite: Suppose your average, good student wants to apply to a likely school but his school is located in an urban, inner city school with a lower graduation rate. His list includes schools which are far below his potential, because his school’s options have not shown his statistics for the schools he wants as successful placements.
Databases are always good places to start. The school’s own placement history is another. Relationships do matter. However, when you look at schools, there is more than fit which matters. Matching matters greatly.
What do I mean by matching? Matching is the ideal for many educational and college consultants; Fit is secondary. Matching is a school for which you, as a student, will be properly challenged by the level of instruction and the competition of the student body. Many students are put in to schools they can “fit” into but these are not necessarily the best match. Many students are put into schools, for which the price seems nice, but these are not necessarily the best match. The tendency for many parents is to apply only to schools they feel they can afford. This is not a good way to select colleges. I always urge and caution parents to NOT look at prices before applying. Often the highest cost colleges offer the most discounts off the tuition from day one. Parents who have not been able to secure price reductions need to get some counseling about this, as most colleges (approximately 92%) offer financial reductions up front in a variety of ways (my placements this year, on average, received at least 50% off tuition costs for all 4 years…and others also received additional scholarship funds for standardized test scores and GPA). Please do not look at price as your main rationale for choosing to apply to a college.
Matching means that you will be placed in a sufficiently challenging educational environment where both your intellectual capacity will be challenged, but you will also be encouraged to take risks. Undermatching, means you might end up in a college for which it is easy to pass courses, you are not challenged, and basically you walk out with a degree without working. Consider what a college degree is supposed to give you. Consider how you want to learn, grow, be challenged, take risks, gain maturity, make mistakes, find your talents, etc. Do you want to go to college, spend the money for a school, where the only thing you truly take away is possibly a social life? How will that play out in real life?
College selections require thought, analysis, knowledge, and some faith. You might not be able to afford serious consulting and support, but you most likely could afford someone to look at your choices with you for a session or two. It is always a good idea to go outside the system and get support from independents not associated with the outcome as much, but more interested in your particular success.