Determining the Right College Fit

When constructing your college list or making a final decision about where you’re going to college, the idea of “fit” is complex. You have to shed your ingrained way of shopping for “fit” and understand that there are many important, intangible and often unseen variables that must be considered beyond how a college campus looks and feels at a glance.    

You’ve probably heard of these common factors to consider:
  • Location of the college
  • Size of the college
  • Cost of the college
  • Whether the college has your major
While these things are important, all students need to be better consumers, which means thinking about a host of other factors that you may not have given enough consideration or are even familiar with. Why?  

According to the report Help Wanted from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (2010), by 2018 the US will need at least 4.7 million new workers with postsecondary certificates. In addition, the upper class “favors workers with some college or better.”  Ultimately, we know that some college is better than no college, but a college degree and a graduate degree will position you for more options and advancement in our new global economy.  

This means that when you are constructing your college list or trying to decide which college to attend, your ability to complete college is something you need to strongly consider.  And that will mean looking beyond the obvious because completing college becomes easier when you are in an environment that is invested in its students and suited to fit your needs.  What is the college doing to help students stay on track and graduate?  For example, you’ll want to ask the about the following:
  1. The retention and graduation rates for your demographic:  The overall retention and graduation rates that a college reports won’t tell you enough. You need to know the retention and graduation rates for students like you.  If you’re a black female, then you should ask about the retention and graduation rates for black females. If the college can’t tell you, then that’s a red flag because that’s information they should have at their fingertips.  This information can be found on the government’s College Navigator site and on Education Trust’s College Results Online.  
  2. The employment rates for graduates like you:  If you think that you are going to be a psychology major, then you might want to ask about what happens to students who graduate with a psychology degree. The government’s new gainful employment regulations  are a step towards ensuring that colleges are being up front about the employability of their graduates.
  3. Career services available to you: Typically students don’t think about using the college’s career services until they are about to graduate and enter the world of work. All students should ask about the quality of the services the college offers and how they engage students. If the extent of their services are drop-in appointments, then that might suggest that the college isn’t terribly invested in helping their students find a job after graduation.    
Other Factors That Every Student Needs to Consider and Why
  1. Average debt upon graduation—You need to plan accordingly so getting a handle on how well students are funded, on average, is important information.
  2. Safety—What kinds of safety measures/systems does the college have in place?  How seriously do they take student safety? By the way, if you want to know what types of crimes are committed on the campus, you can also find that on the government’s College Navigator site.  
  3. Internship opportunities—Relevant experience in your field of interest is important, especially when you’re trying to get a job. Find out what types of internship opportunities are available to you and how the process works.
  4. Academic services—Even if you don’t think you’re going to need it, how the college provides support and the sophistication of the services will tell you something about how much they care about their students and want them to succeed.   
  5. Retention efforts/student advising—Colleges may be shocked when you ask about their “retention efforts”, but this experience is about your future well-being, and you’re not going to invest thousands of dollars if they can’t tell you what they are doing to get you through college.  
  6. Most popular student events—It can be difficult to determine the climate of a college’s campus, but the most popular student events will give you a glimpse into it. Is it Earth Day? Homecoming? A big college football game?    
There are so many questions to ask, but these are some of the ones that all students should ask. Ask these, and you’re sure to develop others. Whether you’re trying to decide if the college should make it onto your list or you’re deciding upon the college that you are going to attend, it is important to remember that it’s more than a feeling.


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