By Timothy Parros, Lisa Schmidt, Victoria Berels

We have heard some of our students tell us that when they visit colleges that it might be possible that there is no one ‘perfect college’ fit. It is because of this that, after years of telling our students that they will know if the college is right when they visit, we have come to the conclusion that New York Times bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell might be onto something about the study of choices. We are referencing his now famous Ted Talk about Howard Moskowitz’s research on happiness and spaghetti sauce. You might be wondering, what does spaghetti sauce have to do with picking a college? Essentially, Gladwell argues, there are several different combinations of attributes that can appeal to different people. Can we apply this same Gladwell thinking as our students start their college tours? Yes, we believe that we can. We are challenging our students to take this one step further, to look at all of the influences that make up their choice of colleges, perhaps thinking of each as a different type of spaghetti sauce!

Our point is this, when you are in the midst of your college tour, and the student guide is not connecting with you, one might look at the college in a different light. Perhaps everything that they are telling you about the college is not important to you and your prewritten list of “must haves at my college.” On this tour, you have disappointingly not checked all of your boxes. Our advice is to not judge the college on a visit that might not have been everything you wanted it to be. As you tour, you might find several colleges that seem to be a good fit, though chances are none of them will be 100% perfect. Added to this is the looming fact that you must balance your warm and fuzzy feelings with price and affordability, and in the end you might have to look at financial fit above all other factors. All of these factors are why we meet with our families to talk about understanding your expected family contribution (EFC), as well as what the total price will be to get your four-year degree. Now is the time that you understand which schools you can afford and have to determine does the slipper still fit?

Our advice to those students that didn’t get the warm and fuzzy feeling first visit is to look at the school on paper, don’t rule them out, and evaluate if the majority of your ‘must haves’ are checked. Keep in mind that students can build relationships and good memories through an environment that is a best fit to their check boxes, not only those colleges that they thought had the best feel. We are also assuming that the college has your program and that it will help you reach your goals in life.

On the flip side, if you are one of the lucky students that all of the pieces to the college puzzle fall into place, then you visit and you have developed your college list well. In our experience, we find that most of our students don’t actually know what they want in a college. This is exactly why we spend so much time analyzing what factors are most important to our students. We still like to start our students exploring a list composed of  two safety schools (schools that meet 50% of their want list that they can get into), two to four good match schools, and finally two reach schools. In the end, it is best to understand the complete picture of where you can make your next home for four years based on price, value, and find a school that checked the majority of your boxes. This is a great time to schedule an appointment with Parros College Planning to determine these very important factors that are unique to your student.

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