Most of you have heard me describe your college application as a puzzle. Each piece must be unique and each piece must fit together. The goal is to create a unified whole that will give the most complete picture of you to a busy admission department that might be giving your application only 10-20 minutes to decide whether you are a contender for admission.
This summer I was at my cottage up north and it was windy outside so I started working on this year’s jigsaw puzzle. It occurred to me that there is another piece of the application puzzle that we need to include—the admissions committee. Just as an audience is part of every performance, the admissions committee is part of your application.
When you are putting together a puzzle, sometimes you will find a piece that seems to be perfect—the right colors, the right shape—the little head the right size—but somehow it doesn’t fit. At first it seems right, but you discover that there is a tiny bit of space, or the edge doesn’t align properly. You put the piece aside, but you keep going back to it, just in case. Finally, you will discover that the piece that actually fits was slightly different than what you had expected, but once you find it, everything else seems to fall into place.
When students look for “fit” it usually means finding the place that you as a student feel most comfortable, or where you can picture yourself, or where you have always dreamed about going. Often students look at artificial ratings and “selectivity” as a way to choose their college lists. When college counselors talk about “fit,” it means much more. We often take about college selection as “a match to be made, not a prize to be won.”
Remember, the only reason that schools are highly “selective” is because many more students apply than the college can accept. It has virtually nothing to do with the quality of the education, future success or student satisfaction at the college. If every high school senior applied to Random State University it would automatically become the most selective college in the nation, but that would not make it the “best.”
Additionally you have to remember that the college admissions office has its own idea of what “fits.” They are looking to build a class that will meet with their mission, goals and priorities and be diversely balanced while having to consider many more thousands of applications than they can admit. They know that there will be many worthy applicants they will have to reject. No matter how much the student applicants may see themselves as a perfect “fit” for their college, the “college puzzle” will determine the fit, ultimately.
In the application puzzle, first, you will narrow down your college list to the schools that you find most attractive and where you believe you have a good chance for admission. This is sort of like sorting the puzzle pieces—the corners, the sides and then by color. Once you apply—actually trying to place the pieces where they might fit—the admissions office takes over. If you have followed the rule of thoughtfully choosing a range of colleges with reasonable admissions statistics, programs that interest you, where you are likely to be successful and contribute to campus life, you will most likely be offered admission to more than one of them.
This is where “fit” comes back to you. You will need to sort through your acceptances and weigh each choice. How important is the “prestige” and artificial ratings scale in my choice? Will I be able to succeed academically and still be able to take advantage of the clubs, sports, and campus programs that makes that school unique? Is one college more affordable than others? Does the college fit my learning style? Do I relate with the students at the campus? Do the students share my values—will I find empathy and collaboration there? Does the college just feel right?
In other words, what you will do is present yourself as honestly and completely as you possibly can. And make sure that you have enough of a range of “first choice” colleges on your list. Although there may be several colleges that could be a perfect fit, there will be one that you will ultimately choose, and then—just as will the jigsaw puzzle—everything will fall into place.
Here is the best part: Working hard in school, learning to the best of your ability, challenging yourself to stretch and grow by participating in such things as the arts and sports, and striving to create a better community through kindness, service and volunteerism, happen to be the things that appeal to colleges. But more importantly—much more importantly—doing this will create character, establish a knowledge base for life, and set the stage to launch you into a spectacular future. There is no down side to being as well prepared as possible, but the college choice you make is only a small part of the journey you are taking throughout your lifetime. Keep this in perspective and you will have a wonderful senior year. And I’m so excited to be part of it!
Patricia Bostwick, MA, LPC
Director of College Counseling