Measuring a College for the Right Fit

This week I’m sharing answers to questions posed by my blog visitors that I passed along to college admission officers who attended the annual conference of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling. Here are some answers:

Question No. 1:

What do admission officers feel are the three most important criteria points for a student and their family to look at to decide if it is a school the student should apply to?
Academic fit. Determine that a school has the majors and academic programs that are important to the child. Of course, lots of teenagers won’t know what they want to major in and why should they when they are 18?
Financial fit. Families should get a good idea of what the school will cost and this should be done way before a teenager finalizes his or her college list. The good news, as an admission rep noted, is that colleges and universities will be required by law to post new price calculators on their websites beginning in late October. This will take a lot of the guessing out of college costs for your child.
Campus fit. Can the teenager feel like he or she would fit in at this school? To assess this, it’s best to visit schools.
I’d add my own 4th criteria — decide whether you want to attend a college or a university since they are very different animals. I’ve written about the differences plenty on this blog.

Question No. 2:

If a student files an application the night before the deadline, is he at a disadvantage compared to someone who applied 2 months earlier?
As long as you meet the admission deadline you are safe. However, if you apply very late, much of the financial aid money might be gone. You also run the risk of missing any deadline for applicable state grants. You should check what the deadlines are for your particular state programs.

Question No. 3:

Not all kids are natural leaders. Some are downright shy. How do you sort out qualities of kids that are not naturally outgoing but may have great skills that are well hidden?
Colleges don’t expect everyone to be leaders. One admission officer at a liberal arts college observed that schools would never pick only leaders. If schools only selected “leaders,” everyone would want to be in charge and that would be a disaster.  All students, however, need to be involved in activities outside the classroom. Those could include jobs, internships, volunteering, sports or other pursuits.  A student can highlight his or her involvement in  applications, college essays and interviews.

Question 4:

As an active-duty military family that has relocated every 2 years for the past 15 years, I’m concerned that my 2 teens will be at a disadvantage when it comes to demonstrating dedication to extracuricular pursuits and leadership in those activities, both of which seem to be highly desireable on college applications. Every time we move, they have to start over, establishing their roles in various groups. After all, it’s tough to become captain of a team or president of a club or editor of a publication when you’re only involved for a year or two. This lifestyle also makes it hard to establish relationships with potential recommendation-writers. What advice do admissions officers have for military kids to address these issues on applications?
When I asked admission officers about military families, they assured me that they would understand that a child who moves frequently isn’t going to have an opportunity to show a consistent involvement in activities during high school including leadership roles. What’s important is to participate in extracurricular activities just like all future college applicants.  Admission officers would like to see  involvement in activities that the child feels passionate about. The teenager could also address the frequent uprooting in his or her application – either in the essay or the supplemental essays.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller and a workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. Follow her on Twitter.

Join My Newsletter
Get your free guide to finding the most generous colleges
Practical, actionable information for Students, Parents, Counselors & Financial Advisors.

Let's Connect

Leave a Reply

  1. I am a current junior in college and I agree with all your points. I think the FIT is the most important for any student. Yes college is a 4 year period to learn and get a degree in something specialized for a potential job or career after school; however it is also a time to experiment, to learn new things, network, and just have fun. Most people are only in college once, so you need to enjoy your years you are in it. Joining campus organizations is a huge part of making the most out of your college career. Certain organizations can also get you a foot in the door and allow you to make connections to potentially get a job and/ or internship which are very important.