By Amy Herzog and Debbie Kanter
North Shore College Consulting

We cannot stress enough that the best college is not the hardest one to get into.  The best college is the one that is the “right fit” for an individual student.  The college selection process should begin and end with who the student is and what he wants from an undergraduate experience.  The best college for an individual student may not be the most popular or the most selective according to other people or according to the rankings in U.S. News & World Report.  College-bound students and their parents often rely on misinformed criteria, for instance the name and prestige of a school, versus focusing on the student’s individual needs and whether those needs “fit” with the identity of a particular college community.  Just because a college is selective does not mean that its educational opportunities and lifestyle are right for everyone.  Above all, students need to consider where they will be most happy and successful. 

Further, attending a well known, highly selective college does not seal a student’s destiny.  The odds of success increase at schools where the fit is right.  Top students that attend small, high quality colleges generally tend to get more leadership opportunities than students at more well known colleges.  Additionally, students at these smaller colleges tend to develop mentor-mentee relationships with their professors, and oftentimes receive better internships than their counterparts at more selective schools.

Here are some facts that reinforce the notion that the most successful graduates do not automatically come from the nation’s most selective schools.  On average, 60 percent of new students at Harvard Law School each year graduated from undergraduate institutions outside of the Ivy League.  50 percent of all U.S. Senators are graduates of public universities.  Only four CEOs of the top ten Fortune 500 companies attended highly selective colleges.  In 2011-2012, Arizona State University produced more Fulbright students than the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin, Penn, Brown, Cornell, Princeton, and Georgetown.  Similarly in 2011-2012, St. Olaf College produced more Fulbright students than Middlebury, Swarthmore, Grinnell, Bowdoin and Wesleyan. 

Parents need to help their children engage in a more student-centered college search process.  This type of college search takes time, dedication and a lot of insight into a student’s strengths, interests, desires and needs.  However, at the end of the day, taking the time to do this research will help ensure that a student actually graduates from the same college she entered as a freshman.