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Finding the Perfect College is a Myth: Find a College That Fits You

January 12, 2018

During your college search, try to find a college that fits you, rather than finding the perfect college.


“By and large, colleges aren’t doing a good enough job explaining to applicants how admissions choices stem from their policy,” says Rebecca Zwick in her recent New York Times op-ed piece, Why Applying to College is So Confusing. “While most colleges list some of the factors they consider in admission—such as leadership and involvement in extracurricular activitiesthey need to go further to explain how applicant characteristics are assessed and weighted.”


In her essay, Zwick attempts to shed light on the college admissions process, paying close attention to institutional mission. Because each university will have a different missionfor example, the mission of Berklee College of Music will drastically differ from that of Rensselaer Polytechnic Instituteeach school’s specific admissions policies and procedures, in building the student community, will reflect that unique institutional goal. But getting a clear-cut understanding on a given college or university’s mission isn’t always so easy.


If your school is laser-focused, like Berklee or Rensselaer, the application process may not be so confusing for potential students. For example, a budding veterinarian knows an art school will not help them reach their goals, an aspiring accountant most likely won’t consider a technical institute, and they’ll tailor their school choices and applications accordingly. However, for more general liberal arts colleges or big state schools, and for applicants who are undecided on their major, it’s not spelled out so succinctly. In these cases, how can you, as students and parents, find a college that fits you? How can you successfully navigate the confusing college application processand even get a competitive edge?


At Edmit, we appreciate how stressful the college application process can be. But we found one glaring omission in Zwick’s argumentfinances. College mission, the ideal student, what makes a successful application essaythese are all somewhat nebulous and subjective criteria. So instead of approaching your college search with the mission of finding the perfect college, using the college’s potentially broad mission as a guide, why not approach the process first as a well-informed consumer?


The consumer approach to college starts with price and affordability, looking at how much college you can afford (e.g., financial fit) above all other factors. It’s using net-price calculators and understanding your expected family contribution, as well as what the total price will be to get your four-year degree. Once you know which schools you can afford, you can then look into cultural fit.


When you start the college application process with a consumer-first approach, don’t just think about your time at school. Take the long view, considering your career goals and how long it will take to pay off any student loan debt you may accrue. After college, do you want to live in a city or rural area? Do you want to travel, raise a family, or start your own business? Think about your college financial obligations in terms of your goals—and the flexibility to pursue those goals. (Does this exercise help in narrowing down where you want to apply to college?)


The truth about college is that many schools around the country can offer a quality education at an affordable price. To take pressure off both students and parents when considering where to go to college, instead of focusing on one perfect fit, give yourself a few choices as a buffer.


The experts at Big Future recommend the following set up when applying to college: one to two safety schools, two to four “good matches”, and one to two “reaches”. (Notice the words “perfect” or “ideal” are nowhere to be seen!) If you give yourself a variety of suitable options for your college experience, you’ll remove a lot of self-imposed pressure.   


So by leading with finances and diversifying your options, you can help reduce stress and take some of the confusion out of figuring out where to apply to college. If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed with the college application process, take a deep breath and crunch the numbers. Know what you can afford, then go from there.