How do I know if the top college choice is a good fit for my son or daughter?

by David M. Tuttle —

I recently heard someone talk somewhat disparagingly about the concept of "fit" regarding students and colleges. I think the point was, that as with relationships, there can be many "fits," and there isn't a magical mythical place. I think the other point was that school is school: Go. Learn. Graduate. Work.

I have sent three kids to college. They each chose different places and the overarching factor, for them, was fit, or where they could see themselves. There are many great choices out there and it is a bonus to find a place where students have some shared values and styles (though diversity is important!

Dean Tuttle runs the Rock 'n Roll Marathon 2015
Tuttle reaches out to Trinity students at the San Antonio Rock 'n Roll Marathon 2015.
The first task is to make the list of choices manageable. First, does a school offer a degree program of interest. At schools like Trinity, we encourage students to explore before finalizing a major. However, a student set on a nursing program shouldn't come here as we don't have that.

Second, prospective students should consider geography, distance from home, and proximity to friends. Sometimes it is easier for students who are far away. Students at Trinity are sometimes drawn to visit, too often , their pack of friends who went en masse to a state school.

And finally, the size of the school matters. If students come here bemoaning that it is smaller than their high schools, then that will be an issue if they don't like that. Often we think of the size of a school in relation to big-time sports. That can be a huge factor for some. But for the cost of education, a better factor is learning style. In other words, will a student thrive in a lecture-oriented environment or a more hands-on discussion-based environment.

Then the issue of fit can be the difference-maker between like schools. Students at Trinity are laid-back, bright, clever, supportive, and fun. They aren't competitive with one another. Students who like it here want to be engaged and immersed in the experience, not apart from it. They understand that if they start to struggle, those who notice will reach out to them. That is what you get when you get us.

Dean Tuttle at the Turkey Trot
Dean Tuttle at the Turkey Trot with his dog & Leeroy the tiger
I caution people about letting factors like tour guides or weather during visits color the whole perception of the campus. Spending time on campus, approaching people to ask what it is like there, and watching how people interact can't be found on a Web page.

After the first semester some students across the nation second-guess themselves. The honeymoon ends, the work is hard, and it turns out the roommate isn't going to be in the wedding party. By the spring that usually changes, and most students find their groove. Most figure out that they were right all along. Their intuition was right: they fit.


About David

David M. Tuttle is an associate vice president and Dean of Students at Trinity University. You can read his blog, The Dean's List, here.

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