As more students apply to colleges each year, landing admission at elite universities feels nearly impossible. Increasingly unrealistic acceptance rates and fierce competition at top universities have undoubtedly come under scrutiny, by the press and parents alike.
Nevertheless, how are students supposed to find their best fit when building their college list? What can students and families do differently? Challenge Success, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Stanford Graduate School of Education, emphasizes the importance of college fit over ranking. Here’s why.
In light of this growing struggle for college applicants against these odds, Challenge Success published “A ‘Fit’ Over Rankings: Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity.” The paper asserts three main conclusions:
- Rankings are problematic.
- College selectivity is not a reliable predictor of student learning, job satisfaction, or well-being.
- Engagement in college is more important than where you attend.
How are rankings problematic? Well for instance, in 2022, Columbia and Villanova (among others) misreported key data, a mistake for both campuses resulting in being dropped from the US News and World Report annual lists. The Challenge Success article also goes on to explain more about how these ranking systems have the potential for subjectivity and bias.
Setting rankings aside, how else can we measure student success? For starters, by comparing student outcomes and interviewing alumni (among other studies). The research team behind the article deduces that a “good fit” is a school where a student feels they can fully engage, both inside and outside the classroom. With these factors present, data shows that students can learn in ways that will help them thrive and grow as a person—in college and beyond!
If you’re interested in reading the full analysis or exploring the research methodology, you can download the document on their website.
How can students find their best-fit college?
Great, so finding the right college doesn’t mean the most prestigious or elite… What does it mean? Let’s start at square one: the college search process is when you start drafting the list of colleges where you will ultimately send applications. Though there are thousands of degree-granting institutions across the country, the majority of students don’t want to apply to more than a dozen (if that many). After all, college applications are a lot of work.
Therefore, you’ll need to filter out a number of schools. You might eliminate schools based on geography, academic program availability, or many other factors. If you’re at a loss for where to start, this article can help get your ideas flowing.
Eventually, either by working with a professional or striking out on your own, you’ll end up with a smaller list. Now you can start looking at the smaller details. Visit the college websites and student forums, or travel to the campus itself if you can. Pay attention to the way students interact, what values are practiced, and the campus culture. Finding a place that will encourage you to grow and provide opportunities to enjoy yourself will likely be a good fit!
What can students and families do differently in the college search process?
So, what can you do right now? Find a program or mentor that works with your student in an adaptive, customized journey. College admission counseling isn’t one size fits all, and it’s important to prioritize your goals.
To learn more about how an individualized, strategic college admissions mentor would help you succeed, reach out to us. The Empowerly program is helping students become the best version of themselves. Our counseling community understands that your student has incredible potential—we’re here to help you navigate the application process. Finding your student’s best match colleges is what we are trained to do. We’re more than happy to talk about our approach to finding the best fit for students through our college counseling program.