The College Blueprint Buzz

Making a Great College Match

Author: Gail Grand, The College Advisor, Inc. (February 2022)

One student loves the non-competitive academic atmosphere at Haverford College that made learning much more enjoyable. Another student praises the intense competition at UC San Diego, which motivates her to do her best work.

Two great schools. But not great for every student. Both of these students had done their homework, made good matches and are thriving.

When a student is in an environment where he feels good about himself, he’s more likely to be successful academically and socially. It seems so obvious. But in this time of high anxiety about college admission, students and parents often pursue the most popular colleges and lose sight of whether those schools are the best matches for them.

Just as in romantic relationships, there’s more than one potential match out there if you remain open to possibilities. There’s no perfect person or college. But there are some very good schools (and people) that offer opportunities for growth and satisfaction.

Self-assessment is crucial to making a good match. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, chances are you won’t find it. While grades and possibly test scores are major factors in college admission, it’s important to use your heart as well as your head to find the right school. This means thinking about what kind of college experience you want.

A student who is more motivated by intellectual curiosity than grades might like Reed College, where students have to ask if they want to know their grades. Or Evergreen State College, where students receive narrative evaluations instead of grades.

Someone who likes to get totally immersed in a subject might like Colorado College or Cornell College (in Iowa), which operate on a block plan, where students take a single subject for three and a half weeks.

For a student who does well when she likes her teacher, but loses motivation if the teacher doesn’t inspire her, it might be important to find a college with small classes, where professors and students form close relationships.

There are many non-academic factors that contribute to a student’s happiness in college. A green, lush environment can be soothing and lower stress levels. But some students thrive on the excitement of an urban environment. Schools like George Washington University, Boston University and NYU offer all the cultural resources of great cities, as well as opportunities for internships at government agencies, theater companies and corporations. The downside is that all this involvement in the city means there’s less sense of community on campus.

Social life is a major part of the college experience, and it’s important to find a school where there are people who share some interests and values. A student who likes being around artsy people might be drawn to Bard College. A basketball fanatic might head for Duke University, where students camp out for days to get tickets for games.

These are just some of the factors that go into making a good college match. It takes a little more time and effort, but a student who clarifies their educational goals, values and interests is more likely to find a school that will allow them to grow and realize their potential, as well as enjoy their college years.

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