College Fit

Students should strive to matriculate at a college or university which can best foster their intellectual and personal growth. Location, size, academic offerings, the student body, and campus environment, among other things, all influence whether an institution is a strong fit for a particular student.

Below are FAQs and Tips concerning how to best explain the concept of "fit" to international students and their families. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  How do you describe the difference between a US college and university to an international student? A:  Although in some countries, the word "college" often refers to an institution similar to a community college, in the United States, four-year undergraduate degrees can be awarded by colleges and universities. However, some colleges do award two and/or four-year undergraduate degrees. Students should also be aware that some universities are made up of different colleges or schools.

Q:  My student is asking about a national examination. Why?
A:  In many countries, college entrance is determined by scores on a national entrance exam. For example, the Gaokao in China.

Q:  How do you convince international students and their parents to look beyond rankings? How do you balance the discussion between fit for the student and their abilities and rankings and reputation?
The idea of “fit” and self- reflection can be alien to the international family who is focused on rankings.  Initial investigation may best start with a geography lesson and understanding of size. 

Ask the student to define their choice of institution with five reasons, aside from rankings, in order to identify the best fit for them. Don’t be afraid to introduce the names of more adventurous schools to the list or places where fewer of their peers may also apply. In the end parents (and agents) may have a say in the final decision.

If a student and/or their parents are stuck on rankings, use multiple rankings creatively to expand their view of “acceptable” choices. Instead of looking at overall US News & World Report College Rankings, look at rankings by major, international student numbers, and other facets of student life that the applicant may be interested in.

Q:  How do you mediate between parents and students when they conflict over what program of study or school they prefer?
A:  Help parents and students to identify areas of crossover at the institutions they are interested in or consider a compromise within a double major or major-minor combination. Be aware of professional needs or demands in their home country. For example, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Scholarship Program favors awarding students pursuing academic disciplines that are needed in the work market of the kingdom. If a student or parent is centered on rankings, use them creatively, by focusing on the program of study the student wants to pursue or other elements of campus life that are of interest or concern.

Q:  How can your student determine if a campus is international student friendly? 
A:  An international student should attend an institution where they feel welcome. Help them determine how a campus will meet their needs by listening to the answers given by the Office of Admission, Dean of Students, other international students, and faculty. 


  • Help students consider what makes them happy. Encourage them to attend colelge fairs, visit campuses, stay overnight, shadow students and get in touch with other international students on campus. If visiting is impossible, joining admission chats and taking virtual tours are resources at many colleges. When visiting and corresponding with prospective colleges and universities, encourage students to use their best English langauge skills and be polite.
  • Check out The College Board’s International Student Handbook designed for foreign students interested in attending college in the US.
  • Admission Matters, What Students and Parents Need to Know about Getting into College, 3rd edition, by Sally Springer, Jon Reider and Joyce Vining Morgan (2013; new edition planned for 2017) addresses specific issues faced by international students - including US students applying to universities abroad.

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Relevant Resources

Guide to International University Admission

A comprehensive resource for counselors and students about undergraduate college options abroad.

The State of College Admission Report

Examining the transition from high school to postsecondary education through survey data collected from colleges and universities across the country.

Commissioned Agents and NACAC's Guide to Ethical Practice Series

A series of six periodically released resources aimed at guiding NACAC members in the responsible use of commissioned agents in international student recruitment.