What does “college fit” really mean?

By Maxine Seya

“Where is the algorithm for fit between student and colleges? It seems difficult to ascertain what colleges are seeking in a student. They can’t all be outgoing community volunteer entrepreneurs with perfect SAT scores….Where is the personality fit category revealed by colleges? Not all perfect score students want MIT.”

– Chloe in Oregon

You’re absolutely right that not all students are outgoing volunteer entrepreneurs with perfect academics. And even if they are, not all of them want to get into the most competitive and selective colleges like MIT.

You mention that colleges don’t do a good job of sharing what characteristic traits they’re looking for in students. I can see why you think that. When we attend college fairs, read college websites, or talk to admissions reps, we oftentimes hear the same things about academic qualifications, application requirements, and generic recruiting terms like “strong student,” “well-rounded individual,” “leaders,” or “unique qualities.” These keywords don’t tell us much about fit.

And that’s because the “fit” determination can only be defined by you — the applicant.

Colleges will do their best to communicate or sell you on what they have to offer during presentations, in brochures, and during campus tours. But they usually receive way more applications than they can accept and, therefore, do not need to develop a complex fit algorithm to admit students. As long as they have confidence the applicant will contribute something positive to the campus, or — at the very least — succeed academically, they don’t need to spend time investigating every last bit of the applicant’s personality, political views, religious views, etc.

They’re less concerned about whether or not that student will feel comfortable and cozy at the university than whether he’ll inspire his classmates and be someone they like.

As the applicant, however, you’re concerned about more than that. Do you fit into the campus culture? Do you fit into its political vibe? Do you fit into its intellectual character? And, of course, will you perform well in academics and social situations?

You don’t need an algorithm to figure this out. And you won’t know everything about a university’s campus feel before you matriculate. But here are 4 starts to evaluating fit:

  1. First things first. Know yourself well. Evaluating fit can only come after you’ve defined your values. Know what you stand for. What makes you uncomfortable yet curious to learn more. What you’re willing to experience and what you want to spend your time on.

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.