Perspectives on college admissions – school fit
In the past two years, we have seen the continuation and acceleration of a long-running trend: the raw numbers of college applications to each school are jumping up dramatically, causing admission-rates to shrink to record-lows.
The major thing students are doing to combat these trends, and increase their odds of admission at selective universities, is to apply to more and more schools - 10, 15 or even 20 schools total now. This is not a bad idea strategically, but students, in my experience, should also be spending a lot more time reflecting on the key concept of “school fit.”
By thinking more deeply about their college likes/dislikes, and how they might fit into each institution they’re applying to, students will not only end up with college choices that suit their wants and needs more closely, but also improve their admissions chances at the schools they apply to.
School fit and key college admission statistics
Demonstrating through their application materials what they appreciate in each institution, and how they will be incorporated well into a particular university’s culture and tradition, students who have reflected on “school fit” stand out from the pack to admissions officers. Reviewing a thoughtful application emphasizing “school fit”, the admissions officer understands how invested you are in their college, and can actually picture how you might be successful at their campus.
“School fit” matters to admissions officers because it can be predictive of the two key metrics admissions officers are trying to maximize:
Yield rate (percentage of admitted students who accept admissions offers)
Percentage of enrolled students who complete their degree
Students who are happy and fulfilled at their school will be more likely to make it through the four years of difficult coursework and academic hurdles of college.
If you can demonstrate you are a good fit for the school, the college admissions officer will be more confident that you will help the university’s reputation by boosting these key statistics used to determine college ranking, prestige etc. There are plenty of amazing colleges and universities in the US, but all of them have unique attributes and characteristics – identifying these for yourself will be critical to unpacking this question of “school fit.”
Analyzing website language
While it seems obvious to go to the college website, it can be easy to gloss over the actual language and materials on the website – thinking of them all as pure branding puffery. Even if the website is designed by well trained marketing professionals, glossing-up to a certain extent the “reality” on campus, the websites still are extremely important: they present an ideal, distilled vision of the type of institution they strive to be. Reviewing these websites, you should think about them from a “school fit” perspective — how does my personality or do my values, my interests mesh with theirs?
Contrast the following statements about academic culture and you can begin to see what I’m talking about. I redacted the names of the college so that you can get an unprejudiced look without any preconceived biases:
College A: Our campus thrives on open dialogue, shoulder-to-shoulder discovery, face-to-face exploration. Whether in the classroom or the dining hall, in your dorm or the fitness center, conversations here tend to challenge, inspire, and enlighten. Mention your latest project to fellow [classmates] — even if they don’t share your major — and they’ll want to know more about it.
College B: [College B’s] academics are boosted by its inherent culture and ecosystem of innovation. You name it, if it’s cutting-edge, the University’s faculty—and students—have their hands in it. [... College B] offers students an unparalleled education informed by inclusivity, intellectual rigor, research, and the impetus to create new knowledge to the benefit of individuals and communities around the world.
Even from these small fragments, it can be inferred that, while both schools are training their students to succeed in life and their future careers, they follow vastly different intellectual trajectories to get there.
College A embraces exploration and a community of intellectual curiosity, touting its students eagerness to discuss with others (even in their free time) what’s on their minds. College B, on the other hand, stresses innovation on campus, an academic culture that is on the pulse of what’s happening in today’s world, and helping to anticipate/bring about these disruptive breaks from the past in the coursework and research.
Reflecting on your experiences
When considering College A and College B, maintain an open mind and reflect on your personal preferences: neither is better or worse, but perhaps one intellectual culture is more appealing for your college life and fits in with your high school experiences more.
With these academic philosophies in mind, examine your preferred college major on their websites, the details of the professors’ projects, the trajectories of courses to complete your major. Will these programs fulfill your academic interests and goals?
Even more importantly, you should now reflect on your own high school profile. Will I be able to demonstrate persuasively that I fit into the culture/ethos of the particular school well? For example, with College A’s culture of “face-to-face exploration,” reflect: how can I show through my experience in high school courses, clubs and life outside school that I have that same curiosity and desire to talk about intellectual projects and problems even in my free time? Or with College B’s emphasis on innovation, which of my projects and experiences in and out of the classroom show this innovation in action?
When it comes to writing college essays and short answer responses, it will be important to keep this question of college fit in mind. Students shouldn’t pander to the university’s mission in their writing; don’t explicitly parrot the university’s website’s language around “exploration” or “innovation,” but it can be referenced in subtle ways – through the experiences you choose to highlight in your writing. If you have stressed the right stories in the responses, the college admissions officer can understand clearly (and at a more subtextual level) how you might fit into their programs’ particular culture.
In future posts, I plan to outline more ways to determine this important question of “college fit” so that students have a good idea in their mind which school(s) might be a good fit for their personality, goals and experiences; and how to maximize their admissions chances at these institutions.
Berkeley2 can help with the question of “college fit” wherever you are in the college admissions process – this work can begin no matter where you are in high school, from freshmen to seniors. With one on one consultations, we can meet with you to discuss college preferences in relation to your high school experiences; determine a set of college criteria for you to use in exploring college choices; craft a good college list as you begin your college admissions season; and finally help craft admissions materials that are tailored to a particular college’s culture and ethos.
For those curious, I’d now like to reveal the identities of our mystery schools in this blog: College A was Swarthmore College; College B was University of Pennsylvania. Could you guess either?