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Table of Contents

Choosing a College: Where Do I Start?

Navigating the Funnel

Perfect Fit

They Beg to Differ

What to Ask About Study Abroad on Campus

What's it Worth to You?

Surviving the Empty Nest: A Guide for Parents

Alumni Accomplishments

The Kenya Connection

Laurentian Reviews

Table of Contents

Perfect Fit
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 college.

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 be tolerated?

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 this college?

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 .