Why "Fit" Matters In Your College Search

When two schools are the same on paper, how do you decide which one is right for you? Dan Edmond's talks about finding the school that "fits" for you in today's blog post.

In last week's Noodling, I discussed the importance of prestige in selecting a school. This week, I wanted to dig more deeply into a notion that I raised, but didn't discuss in the detail it deserved: the notion of fit.

All too often, people treat selecting a college like a simple numbers game. As I mentioned last week, I often have students tell me that their goal is to get into "the best school that I can." And while prestige has definite benefits, and is worth taking into consideration for most students, it's only one factor among many.

What exactly is fit?

In some ways, I'd look at fit as the personality of a school. Two schools could be the same on paper (highly competitive, medium-sized, excellent academics, located in a big city; I'm describing, incidentally, some of the major characteristics I was looking for when I chose where to go to school), but have completely different "personalities." How diverse is the student body? How politically active? How religious? How hard do students study? What is the social life like? How much personal attention do students get from professors? Is campus social life fraternity/sorority-centered? How important are athletics?

The questions go on and on. But these are, for many students, the important factors that will determine whether they will flourish at a given school.

I remember my own experience visiting schools. The first school I visited--a highly prestigious university not far from where I grew up--was, on paper, everything I wanted. Top flight academics. Internationally prominent. Excellent professors in a wide range of departments. Phenomenal students from all over the country (and the world). Located in a big city with culture to spare.

And if I hadn't visited, I might have made the mistake of going there.

I was there on a beautiful spring afternoon. A Friday. It was one of those perfect spring days, and was the first perfect spring day that year. And as I walked across the (picture perfect) quad of the campus, all I heard students talking about was one thing: homework.

Now, don't get me wrong. I was an academically serious student. I was that annoying kid who got upset when it looked like he might get an A-minus instead of an A. But still on that perfect first day of spring, I didn't want to be on a campus where the focus of all the conversations was on school. I wanted a serious college, but not THAT serious.

The school I ended up attending--Wash U--had a number of characteristics that made it a great fit for me. The students were intellectually diverse, as represented by the wide range of undergraduate programs they had (Art, Architecture, Engineering, Business, Arts and Sciences). Academics were taken seriously, but there was also an active social scene that was NOT entirely centered around frat row. There were strong athletic programs, but the school was Division 3, so the athletes were students first. And when I walked through the campus, I overheard people talking about everything. Academics. Politics. Sports. And yes, what they were going to do that weekend.

It simply felt right.

By the numbers, both schools were perfect for me. But once I visited, it was clear that Wash U was the better choice.

And that's fit: it's not just about what college is right for you by the numbers, but also what college makes you feel like you've found a new home.

Image Source: Glass Slipper; House

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