Why Fit Really Matters

Of the over 4,700 postsecondary schools in the US, how do you know which colleges are right for your child? Are you falling into the trap of pushing for the most prestigious schools they could possibly get into? Or are you truly considering your child’s needs (and your family’s finances)? 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 59% of students entering college for the first time completed their degree within six years. Some of the factors that contribute to students dropping out or taking too long to graduate include students who are unprepared for coursework, or who get overwhelmed with debt, as well as those who simply were not ready for school or did not know what they really wanted to do. 

If you would like your student to actually graduate from college, and actually graduate in four years, it’s important for your child to choose a school where they are actually a good fit.

Personality, Interests & Life Satisfaction

According to psychologist John L. Holland, if you match your interests and personality with the type of work you do, you’ll be happier in your career and likely to earn more. It makes sense that the work students do in college would also have a high impact on their satisfaction and success in school. 

Through high school guidance and peer pressure, students are often “trained” to think about how much money they want to earn and which school is the most prestigious they can get into. Unfortunately, this will likely lead to frustration, wasted money and time. I think sometimes kids forget they can go to school for something they really are interested in as opposed to whatever will earn them the most potential money. 

Learning the Hard Way

In high school I was in love with chemistry. It was my favorite class and I even actively attended our school’s chemistry club. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I was even vice president of our six member chemistry club. 

Chemistry was great. Until I got home. When I was home I never thought of chemistry – I tinkered with computers – programming and playing games. 

After I graduated I thought chemistry was the way to go. I decided I’d major in chemistry. After talking to my counselor I discovered that chemistry majors are limited career-wise to only a few types of jobs – the most popular being school teachers. I didn’t see myself making very much money as a high school chemistry teacher so I did some research and found that a major in chemical engineering was my path to success. Chemical engineers are highly sought out and highly paid. 

After struggling for two years in college and slowly realizing that chemical engineering is a) very hard and b) not very fun, I talked to a trusted friend and explained my dilemma. I wasn’t enjoying the courses I was taking and I was only half way through college. Should I continue on this path?

My friend had a simple question for me. He asked why I hadn’t gone into a computer related field. After this short discussion I felt enlightened. Shortly thereafter I changed majors to computer science and never looked back. 

How do You Measure Fit?

When we say that “fit really matters” we’re talking about the location of the school, academics and selectivity, finances, majors and campus culture. All of these are important criteria to be weighed and evaluated before deciding on a school. 

Many families start with location. Do you prefer to stay in-state to take advantage of tuition deals? Does your student prefer a rural setting, small town, or big city? Do they need to be near companies and businesses with the best internship and job opportunities? 

What kind of culture would your student find important? Do they easily fit in with large crowds and have outgoing personalities? A larger school may be a good fit. If you student is more introverted and wants more personable instruction? A smaller or private school may be a better fit. 

How about choice of major? Is your student considering what would make them happy long term? Had I really looked at my interests honestly I could have saved a few years of tuition and got off to a quicker start in my career. 

And let's not forget finances. No student is served well by going to an institution that will leave them overwhelmed with debt. Choosing the right school has a lot to do with how much financial aid you can receive. And this doesn't always mean your local public university. Many private schools have generous scholarships and need-based aid available to desirable students.

Beyond Search to Match

Encourage your student to look at factors other than school prestige and average starting wage. Finding the right fit will give you a happier student and a better long term result. One great way to start is with College Factual’s matching tool

Fill out your Match Profile for each “fit” area and once your profile is complete, your top list of schools ranked by the best total fit. It’s a great way to help you narrow down that intimidating list of schools into something more manageable and in alignment with your student’s interests.