“I walked on the campus and it just felt right,” said Brian, a high school senior from Michigan.
When I was in my first year of admissions at Kenyon College, a young man who had just decided that he was going to attend told me that. Over the next few years, I would hear other reasons for why people chose Kenyon:
“I loved the pool!”
“Everyone was so friendly”
“It looks like Hogwarts”
These are all fine reasons, but probably should not be the driving forces as to why someone chooses a college. However, those were the most common things that were brought up, and they all circle around this nebulous idea of “fit.”
Now, none of this is a knock on Kenyon, as it is an excellent institution. However, many of the things that make it a wonderful place could be understood a different way. The goal of this post is to walk you through this process with two simple steps that will help you assess whether a school could be the right school for you (and remember, there will be many, many places where you could be very happy and successful):
Will I be Able to Find Meaningful Opportunities at This Institution?
This is probably the most important question that you will be asking yourself and it does have to do with “fit” (sort of). This question reframes what fit actually means (which allows us to understand it and thus assess whether a school is in fact a “good fit”). So ask yourself, will this place allow you to learn and grow in the ways that you want to? This can mean lots of different things for different students. Let’s use the example of Kenyon, which is a small, rural, liberal arts college. If your idea of college is discussing ideas, small classes, and being in nature, then Kenyon is probably a fine place for you. If you really want to have access to a city, then Kenyon may not be the best situation. When you are thinking about different colleges, think about the opportunities that you will be presented with and how this fits into your plan or pathway.
Identify the Numbers That Actually Matter
There are LOTS of numbers that colleges will throw at you in the admissions process. The numbers that matter in application part of the process–average SAT or ACT, average GPA, acceptance rate–don’t matter when you are actually choosing a college. Instead, there are six other statistics that you should consider that actually highlight the quality of the institution:
- Retention Rate
- Graduation Rate
- Net Price
- Employed Percentage of Graduates
- Average Salary
- Student to Faculty Ratio
If we were to use the example of Kenyon again, it would fare quite well when looking at these numbers with a high retention rate (typically at least 95%) and graduation rate (roughly 90%). This blog post goes over the importance of these data points in a more specific manner, so you should definitely check that out!
It Needs to Be Repeated: There Are Many Colleges That Could Be Great for You
College is not the end-all of life. During my time as a college counselor, I have worked with several students who unfortunately thought that they were doomed because they were not accepted by a “brand name” school. Remember, there are many colleges that could be wonderful for you and at the end of the day; college is a springboard to launch you into the rest of your life. Hopefully, this two-step process will give you some time to be reflective and consider your priorities, but also look at the most meaningful data points. Best of luck to all students in this exciting time!