Choosing Best Fit!

Many students will have already heard from some of the schools they have applied to, and most of the others will be replying in March. You will need to decide on a final choice and send in an “intent to register” and a deposit by May 1st.  It is always surprising to me how much more you will learn about a school once you know that you are actually accepted at that school. I guess that it is difficult to really look into all that a school has to offer until it is ACTUALLY a reality. The trick now is to really learn about the school and to imagine what it will be like for you for four years. Now more than ever, you need to forget what everyone else thinks of a school, including various Ranking Organizations, and remember that the goal for you is to find the Best Fit school.
You would have made a list of schools to shoot for that was based on selectivity and chances to get in, but that list should never be considered a hierarchy of schools on preference, only on selectivity. It is now your task to understand which of these schools is now the BEST fit for YOU. With the students that I work with professionally, I work with them on creating a “Right Fit – Matrix”, basically, a spread sheet where you list various things that are important to you along the top row, and the list of schools that you got into on the first column, and then research and rate for yourself how each school reflects these things that are important to you. As opposed to being any formula, the Right Fit Matrix is there to help organize your research. Hopefully, through the process of your research, you will determine the best fit for you.
Remember, college is like a buffet. Huge buffets are not necessarily better, as we can only eat so much. Notable buffets are often over-rated and too expensive. And most of all, a buffet’s benefit is that you can choose what you want. Make sure that the buffet that you are choosing offers you exactly what you are looking for. The next step will be to prepare to actively devour that buffet next fall. Many of your peers will be so excited by the sheer volume of things on offer that they will passively await being served. I am hoping that you will not be shy to grab that plate and begin piling it on right away!!
Some elements to think about when considering your choices.
1. Name Recognition
Large universities tend to have greater name recognition than small colleges. For example, once you leave the US, you'll find more people who have heard of Stanford University than Pomona College. Both are extremely competitive top-notch schools, but Stanford will always win the name game.
There are several reasons why universities tend to have greater name recognition than small colleges:
•    Larger schools have more alumni in India because they went to Graduate School there. Remember that those are very different things. Make sure that the school that you choose values undergraduate education.
•    Larger schools are more likely to have NCAA Division I athletic teams.  Flip side of this is that many students are only attracted to the school because of the athletic teams.
•    At research-centered universities, the faculty often publish more and appear in the news more. Flip side of this is that they do not have as much interest in teaching undergraduate students.

2. Professional Programs
You're more likely to find robust undergraduate professional programs in areas like business and engineering at a large university. Smaller schools consider these to be more suitable for Graduate Study and therefore do not have as much of a focus or funding related to those fields. Notable exceptions would be schools like Babson or Bentley for business or Harvey Mudd, Rose Hulman or Franklin W. Olin for Engineering.

3. Class Size
At a liberal arts college, you're more likely to have small classes, even if the student / faculty ratio is higher than at a large research university. You’ll find far fewer giant freshmen lecture classes at a small college than a large university. In general, small colleges have a much more student-centered approach to education than large universities. NOTE: Student-Teacher Ratio is sometimes a scam in that some schools will count EVERY professor who is in anyway attached to the university when calculating that ratio ~ Class size is always a better metric to look at.

4. Classroom Discussion
This is connected to class size -- at a small college you'll usually find lots of opportunities to speak out, ask questions, and engage the professors and students in debate.
5. Access to the Faculty
At a liberal arts colleges and other smaller schools, teaching undergraduates is usually the top priority of the faculty. Tenure and promotion both depend upon quality teaching. At a large research university, research may rank higher than teaching. Also, at a school with master's and PhD programs, the faculty will have to devote a lot of time to graduate students and consequently have less time for undergraduates.

6. Graduate Instructors
Small liberal arts colleges usually don't have graduate programs, so you won't be taught by graduate students. At the same time, having a graduate student as an instructor isn't always a bad thing. Some graduate students are excellent teachers, and some tenured “research” professors are actually lousy.

7. Athletics
If you want huge tailgate parties and packed stadiums, you'll want to be at a large university with Division I teams. The Division III games of a small school are often fun social outings, but the experience is entirely different. If you're interested in playing on a team but don't want to make a career of it, a small school may provide more low-stress opportunities.

8. Leadership Opportunities
At a small college, you'll have a lot less competition getting leadership positions in student government and student organizations. You'll also find it easier to make a difference on campus. Individual students with a lot of initiative can really stand out at a small school in a way they won't at a huge university.

9. Advising and Guidance
At many large universities, advising is handled through a central advising office, and you may end up attending large group advising sessions. At small colleges, the advising is frequently handled by the professors. With small college advising, your advisor is more likely to know you well and provide meaningful, personalized guidance.

10. Anonymity
Do you like being hidden in the crowd? Do you like being a silent observer in the classroom? It's much more easy to be anonymous at a large university.

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Many schools fall within a gray area on the small/large spectrum. I have also dealt mostly with size in this write up as I find it a very key area to consider and feel that it overlaps with many of the other features that make college meaningful. But please make other criteria for your own Right Fit Matrix to determine what is important to you. I am, ironically, coaching two transfer students this year that I did not work with the first time around. One is in a remote place and finds it too “dead”. The other is in New York City and finds it too much of a distraction and reports that most of the students are not at all active on campus. She wants a more involved student body in a smaller and less urban environment. Look also at certain special features of the colleges that you are considering. Dartmouth College, the smallest of the Ivies, provides a nice balance of college and university features and has an innovative Quarter System called the D-Plan. The University of Georgia has an Honors program of 2,500 students that provides small, student-centered classes within a large state university. Some schools may have consortiums of several schools that offer opportunities for larger offerings. Some schools have COOP opportunities that allow one to work in one’s field of interest for a year during study. Keep an eye out for some of these offerings as you explore.
A Final Word
Many schools fall within a gray area on the small/large spectrum. I have also dealt mostly with size in this write up as I find it a very key area to consider and feel that it overlaps with many of the other features that make college meaningful. But please make other criteria for your own Right Fit Matrix to determine what is important to you. I am, ironically, coaching two transfer students this year that I did not work with the first time around. One is in a remote place and finds it too “dead”. The other is in New York City and finds it too much of a distraction and reports that most of the students are not at all active on campus. She wants a more involved student body in a smaller and less urban environment. Look also at certain special features of the colleges that you are considering. Dartmouth College, the smallest of the Ivies, provides a nice balance of college and university features and has an innovative Quarter System called the D-Plan. The University of Georgia has an Honors program of 2,500 students that provides small, student-centered classes within a large state university. Some schools may have consortiums of several schools that offer opportunities for larger offerings. Some schools have COOP opportunities that allow one to work in one’s field of interest for a year during study. Keep an eye out for some of these offerings as you explore.

The Final Choice

 With letters of acceptance rolling in over next month, it is time to return to the beginning and find the Best Fit.

With letters of acceptance rolling in over next month, it is time to return to the beginning and find the Best Fit.