The College Fit

Ask any woman and she can tell you just how important it is to find that perfect little black dress. It doesn’t matter where you bought it, what the brand name is or even how much you paid for it. All that matters is that when you put that dress on, you KNOW you look good.

Finding the perfect fit is, well, perfect! So, having found that perfect fit for ourselves, and knowing the feeling you get when you know it looks just right, why would we accept anything less than the perfect fit for our children when we begin the process of searching for a college?

You’re thinking, “How is that the same thing? How do we get from the perfect little black dress to the perfect fit in college?” Simple, fit is fit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dress or a college. When you find something that fits, you can accomplish anything.

Think about the dress buying process. First, you find that store you know always carries a large selection in your size. If you really need that dress, how far you drive won’t be important as long as you can find something that fits and looks good. Name brand won’t matter either because we all know that if the dress looks good, then you feel good, no matter what the label says. You will ultimately decide on the dress that fits the best and is the most affordable.

The college search is no different than shopping for a dress. Many students completely discount the importance of size. They choose a school because their friends went there, you went there, the school was close to home or any other unimportant reason. Unfortunately, once they get there, they may find that the school is too small, offering them few activities or a limited selection of courses. Or possibly the school is too big. They feel overwhelmed and lost, making it difficult to find peers with their interests or struggling in classes that are too large. They never considered how the size of the school would impact their life.

Once a student realizes the size of school they need, location becomes an important factor. Sure, the West Coast is too far for you to visit them every week and maybe all their friends are going to the local state school. But if the schools that best fit them are located more than a couple of hours away or out of state, shouldn’t they consider them? Finding a school that offers several strong programs in areas of their interest is critical to academic success. Limiting a search based on location can seriously narrow a student’s options.

Finding a strong program in the student’s area of interest is important, even if it is at a lesser known college. Why does it have to be a school everyone recognizes? The most important focus is making sure the school fits your child academically and socially so that they succeed. Our country has thousands of colleges, and not all students attend a top-ranked university. More importantly, where you got your degree is not nearly as important as the opportunities you have and how you use them.

Once you’ve figured out what you are looking for in a school, there’s still cost to consider. Many students don’t consider a private or out-of-state school, as they assume they can’t afford it. However, understanding your family’s expected contribution as well as the ins and outs of financial aid can make a huge difference in the selection process. While state schools tend to be more affordable than private schools or out-of-state schools, hundreds of schools out there are willing to give your child merit aid, and often these awards can make the cost equal to, or even less than a state school.

Wouldn’t it be great if choosing a college were as simple as finding the perfect little black dress? But in all seriousness, it’s a pretty complicated task. Ensuring your child’s fit in college requires that you take into consideration numerous variables. Size, location, rank and cost are only part of the equation. Finding the fit academically and socially is critical to their success. But, just like that little black dress, when the fit is good, you can expect your child to accomplish great things!

Christine M. Hall is the founder of CMH College Consulting in Cary. She has a doctorate in education from Vanderbilt University and has more than 22 years of experience as a secondary school educator and administrator. Currently, she assists students in grades 7–12 with curriculum planning and academic advising in preparation for the college selection and application process. For more information, e-mail or visit

Contributed by Christine M. Hall

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