As in any relationship, finding the right college is more
about a good match than about statistics.
By David Norenberg
St. Lawrence University may be a wonderful place, filled with tradition,
excellence and memories, but, contrary to what most Laurentians think,
it is not the perfect college. Well, it is and it isn’t. There
are hundreds of “perfect” colleges and universities, of
which St. Lawrence is one. The challenge for an aspiring collegian
in finding the perfect school is to define “perfect.” Web
sites and college guides abound to help prospective students review
colleges and weigh such arcane data as selectivity and acceptance rates.
But, for all the statistics and demographics, it may be better to think
of finding the perfect college as finding the perfect romantic match.
College-fit theory says that the more a student’s goals, attitudes
and values are in line with the institution the happier the student
is, and hence the more likely to stay. The same could be said for a
relationship. Cognitive consistency and dissonance theories suggest
that when students are in a like-minded environment they will stay;
when the mind space differs, they feel a lack of “fit” and
they leave. In sum, research has shown that we are attracted to and
stay in schools that are like us. Yente and other matchmakers would
find such a conclusion common sense; love at first sight may have less
to do with inspiration and more to do with perspiration and looking
in the right places.
In making a match, one must first ask two questions: who am I? and
what do I want in a match? Below are a series of questions for a prospective
college student and how they may be connected to finding the right
What was my favorite class in high school, and why?
Is that subject something you wish to pursue? Should a prospective
college have classes available in that area? Was the teacher highly
engaged or did the course allow for autonomous discovery? Should prospective
colleges have professors that approach teaching the same way?
How do I spend my free time?
Does the college have the activities that you are interested in?
How organized am I?
How pre-structured are the college’s academic programs? Do you
want the flexibility to create your own course of study or prefer to
have it determined for you?
Do I prefer to think about things internally or feel a need to bounce
ideas off people?
Will classes be primarily lectures, allowing you to learn material
individually, or are classes interactive, encouraging discussion?
How much freedom do I want?
What are the housing policies like? Will they give you the security
or freedom you seek?
How much do I respect institutions and education?
If you like to challenge the norm, will that be tolerated? If you
want to be part of and help maintain a feeling of tradition, will that
What is more important to me: fitting in or standing out?
Do students on campus look like me?
Once one starts answering questions like these, more will come. Answer
them honestly and create a profile that answers “Who am I?” Then,
move on to “What do I want?” Again, think about the question
as if looking for a relationship.
Do I want my college to have a sense of humor and not be too serious,
or goal-oriented and intense?
How much do I want my college to control? Do I want them to let me
be or help me be?
How emotional/personal do I want my college to be?
Should my college be more about brains, more about good looks or more
about having fun?
Do I want an adventurous college, one that is well-traveled and expects
the same of me?
Do I want a college that is willing to share the financial cost of
the relationship, or am I happy to pay for everything?
Do I want a college that believes what I believe or holds contrary
views that challenge me?
With “Who am I?” and “What do I want?” answered,
future collegians can begin looking at college guide books and selecting
institutions with which they may find a connection. Then, the campus
visits can be scheduled. And, much like a first date, the college visit
should be seen as an opportunity for both parties to learn about the
other. Afterward, ask the following questions:
- Did I get to meet the real college?
- How well does the college fit my desired characteristics?
- Did I feel comfortable, like I could be myself there?
- Will we have lots to talk about?
- Do I feel excited to see it again?
- Do I have a sense that I will be a better person for my being with
Of course, there are Laurentians who say, “The minute I arrived
on campus for a visit, I just knew this was the place for me.” Certainly,
there can be instances of love at first sight, or maybe they are more
instances of prepared serendipity. Either way, selecting a college
is a deeply personal process that ideally results in a formative relationship,
and should be taken as seriously as finding a significant other. Because,
after all the acceptance rates and graduation rates and interest rates,
colleges and universities are still called alma mater (nurturing mother)
for a reason.
David Norenberg is St. Lawrence’s digital asset and online
data manager photo collection manager and an advisor to several student
organizations. The perfect match for him was the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh .