January 4, 2016

College Fit Trumps Selectivity

Of the over 4,700 postsecondary schools in the US, how do you know which colleges are right for your child? Are you falling into the trap of pushing for the most prestigious schools they could possibly get into? Or are you truly considering your child’s needs (and your family’s finances)?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 59% of students entering college for the first time completed their degree within six years. Some of the factors that contribute to students dropping out or taking too long to graduate include students who are unprepared for coursework, or who get overwhelmed with debt, as well as those who simply were not ready for school or did not know what they really wanted to do.

If you would like your student to actually graduate from college, and actually graduate in four years, it’s important for your child to choose a school where they are actually a good fit.

Graduation Rates Not Necessarily Tied to Selectivity

An article entitled College Selectivity and Degree Completion by Scott Heil, Liza Reisel and Paul Attewell published in the American Educational Research Journal proposes that the selectivity of a college does not have an independent effect on graduation rates.

Heil et al. examined students noting SAT scores and pitted them again several data models to answer what effect SAT score had on graduation rate. If a student with a high SAT score attended a school with a similar average SAT score – would it affect graduation likelihood? What about a student who was “overqualified” for a school – student with high SAT score attending a school with a lower average SAT.

The authors concluded that although selectivity does play some part in graduation rates, it is most likely a larger set of factors that will impact a student’s likelihood of graduating. Neither scenario (qualified or overqualified) noted any substantial difference in graduation rate.

This doesn’t mean your student shouldn’t necessarily attend a more selective school as there may be additional benefits attributed to more selective schools such as increased earning power and stronger social network. However, when it comes to strictly looking at graduation rates, the selectivity doesn’t much matter.

How to Choose the Right School

Choose a college where you’re comfortable with the location, academics, and finances.

Students and their parents should take a holistic approach to choosing a college and not follow the temptation to hone in on a specific factor. Some aspects to consider include the location of the school, academics and selectivity, finances, majors and campus culture. All of these are important criteria to be weighed and evaluated before deciding on a school.

Many families start with location. Do you prefer to stay in-state to take advantage of tuition deals? Does your student prefer a rural setting, small town, or big city? Do they need to be near companies and businesses with the best internship and job opportunities?

What kind of culture would your student find important? Do they easily fit in with large crowds and have outgoing personalities? A larger school may be a good fit. If your student is more introverted and wants more personable instruction? A smaller or private school may be a better fit.

How about their choice of major? Is your student considering what would make them happy long term? Had I really looked at my interests honestly I could have saved a few years of tuition and got off to a quicker start in my career.

And let’s not forget finances. No student is served well by going to an institution that will leave them overwhelmed with debt. Choosing the right school has a lot to do with how much financial aid you can receive. And this doesn’t always mean your local public university. Many private schools have generous scholarships and need-based aid available to desirable students.

After all, if your homesick student attends a school out of state and one that is not as affordable to your family, the chance your student will graduate is much lower than if they had attended a college with a better fit.

Personality, Interests & Life Satisfaction

According to psychologist John L. Holland, if you match your interests and personality with the type of work you do, you’ll be happier in your career and likely to earn more. It makes sense that the work students do in college would also have a high impact on their satisfaction and success in school.

Through high school guidance and peer pressure, students are often “trained” to think about how much money they want to earn and which school is the most prestigious they can get into. Unfortunately, this will likely lead to frustration, wasted money and time. I think sometimes kids forget they can go to school for something they really are interested in as opposed to whatever will earn them the most potential money.

Beyond Search to Match

Encourage your student to look at factors other than school prestige and average starting wage. Finding the right fit will give you a happier student and a better long term result. One great way to start is with College Factual’s matching tool.

Fill out your Match Profile for each “fit” area and once your profile is complete, your top list of schools ranked by the best total fit. It’s a great way to help you narrow down that intimidating list of schools into something more manageable and in alignment with your student’s interests.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *