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Finding Your Best-Fit College: Getting Ready to Apply

Updated: May 30

Graduates Holding Their Graduation Caps

Congratulations! You and your student have taken a fantastic journey of self-discovery. You've selected strategic coursework and extracurricular activities and have begun crafting a compelling resume. Now it's time to find the perfect college fit!

Why Finding Your Best Fit College Matters

Choosing a college is more than just picking a name or a ranking. The goal is to find a school that appeals to your student's academic interests, learning style, career aspirations, and campus culture fit. A good college fit feels right – it's where your student feels seen, supported, and challenged to grow.

The Reach, Target, Safety School Strategy

To maximize your student's chances for admission, create a list that includes schools with varied admission requirements. A good strategy is to create a balanced list of schools divided into three categories: reach, target, and safety schools.

  • Reach Schools: These are colleges with high admissions standards and selectivity rates. While your student might meet the academic requirements, it's crucial to be realistic about the odds. Aim to include 2-3 reach schools on your list. These schools serve as stretch goals that push your student to strive for excellence.

  • Target Schools: These are schools where your student's academic profile aligns well with the average admitted student. Target schools offer your student a decent chance of admission and a good fit for academic and extracurricular interests. Aim to include 4-6 target schools on your list. These schools form the core of your college application strategy.

  • Safety Schools: These colleges offer a significant likelihood of acceptance based on your student's credentials. Safety schools provide peace of mind regardless of the outcome at other schools. Include 2-3 safety schools on your list.

Why This Strategy Works

  • Casts a Wider Net: By choosing a range of schools, you increase your student's chances of receiving multiple acceptance offers. This approach offers more options and choices come decision time.

  • Reduces Application Stress: Having safety schools on the list alleviates some anxiety with the college application process. Your student will know they have solid options regardless of the outcome of their reach and target schools.

  • Ensures a Good Fit: Focusing on multiple target schools increases the likelihood of finding a college where your student will thrive.

Beyond the Numbers: Considering Fit Beyond Rankings

While reputation and rankings are factors, they shouldn't be the sole deciding factor.. Here are some additional considerations to ensure the best-fit college:

  • Campus Environment: Does your student prefer a large, bustling university or a smaller, close-knit college? Urban, rural, or suburban settings can also influence their decision-making.

  • Academic Programs: Does the college offer the best programs in your student's area of interest? Are there opportunities for internships, research, or study abroad?

  • Financial Aid: Is the total cost of attendance affordable after factoring in scholarships, grants, and financial aid packages?

  • Campus Culture: Does the college have a vibrant student life? Does it align with your student's social preferences and extracurricular interests?

Finding the Perfect Match: College Research Tips

Here are a few tips to help your student conduct thorough college research to identify their perfect match:

  • College Websites and Virtual Tours: Most college websites offer a wealth of information. Review their academic programs, campus life, admissions requirements, and financial aid. Take advantage of virtual tours to get a feel for the campus environment.

  • College Fairs: Attending college fairs allows your student to interact with admissions representatives from various schools. College fairs are an excellent opportunity to ask questions and gather information. 

  • College Rankings and Review Sites. While rankings shouldn't be the sole deciding factor, review sites can give students perspective on campus life. US News & World Report or can provide helpful insights into most colleges.

  • Talk to Current Students and Alumni: Connecting with current students or alumni can provide valuable insights into the college experience.

Now that you've identified the best schools for your student, it's time to craft persuasive personal statements to impress college admissions officers. 

The Art of the College Essay: Showcasing Your Unique Voice

The college essay is your chance to shine beyond grades and test scores. It's a platform to tell your story, share your personality, and prove why you'd be a valuable addition to their college community. Here's how to craft a compelling essay that captures the attention of admissions officers:

Find Your Story: Brainstorming Essay Topics

  • Reflect on Experiences: Think about challenges you've overcome, passions you've pursued, or experiences that have shaped your identity.

  • Focus on Growth: Admissions officers want to see students who learn and grow from their experiences. Choose a topic showcasing your ability to persevere, adapt, or learn from setbacks.

  • Highlight Strengths: The essay is an excellent opportunity to showcase your strengths and qualities. Did an experience prove your leadership, creativity, or problem-solving skills?

  • Be Unique: Avoid generic topics or clichés. Instead, choose something that allows your unique voice and personality to come through.

Brainstorming Techniques

  • Journaling: Freewriting allows you to explore ideas and uncover unexpected aspects of your experiences.

  • Mind Mapping: Visually brainstorm by creating a mind map with your central topic in the center. Then, branch out with related ideas and experiences.

  • Listing Achievements: List your accomplishments, awards, or experiences. See if any spark an essay idea that delves deeper into your motivations or learnings.

Crafting a Compelling Essay: Outlining and Writing

  • Develop a Thesis Statement: This is a one-sentence summary of your main point or argument. Your essay should support this central idea.

  • Create an Outline: Organize your thoughts by outlining the main points you want to convey in each paragraph.

  • Start Strong: Hook the reader with a captivating introduction that sets the stage for your story.

  • Show, Don't Tell: Instead of stating your qualities, use details, anecdotes, and specific examples to illustrate your points. Showing instead of telling brings your story to life.

  • Be Authentic: Write naturally, avoiding overly formal language or clichés. Let your personality shine through.

  • Proofread: Typos and grammatical errors create a negative impression. Proofread your essay and have a few others review it for clarity and flow.

Additional Tips

  • Read Successful Essays: Review examples of persuasive college essays to understand what works.

  • Stay Focused: While showcasing your personality is critical, stay focused on the essay prompt and avoid going off on tangents.

  • Revise and Revise: Don't settle for the first draft. Revise your essay several times to ensure clarity, coherence, and a strong flow.

With a powerful essay showcasing their unique voice, students are ready to tackle the application process.

Need Help With Your College Essay? BestFit College Advisors can help!

BestFit College Advisors offers tailored guidance for your entire admissions journey, including essay effective writing! Our experienced academic advisors help students identify their strengths and interests, develop a strategic college list, and build a compelling resume for admissions success.

Educational consultants coach and motivate students, keeping them on track throughout the application process. We provide personalized feedback on application materials, help students remain organized, and stay on top of critical deadlines.

Whether you’re seeking comprehensive guidance or targeted support, explore the stress-free benefits of working with an experienced admissions advisor. We play a crucial role in helping your student handle the college admissions process confidently and achieve their educational goals.

Contact Cheryl at BestFit College Advisors today at (207) 229-8603 to learn how we can help your student achieve their college dreams!

Now, let’s explore how to best position your student for college success!

The Common Application: A Guide for Parents and Students

The Common Application can feel overwhelming at first. But, with sound planning and organization, it's an efficient way to apply to multiple colleges. Here's a breakdown of the Common Application process. Take note of these tips for managing deadlines, organizing materials, and presenting information.

What is the Common App?

The Common Application is a non-profit organization that offers a standardized application form accepted by over 1,000 colleges and universities. It allows students to submit one application to many schools, saving time and effort.

Getting Started: Creating an Account

  • Early Bird Approach: Encourage your student to create a Common App account early, even if they're not applying for another year or two. They should familiarize themselves with the platform and explore college profiles at the same time.

  • Accurate Information: Ensure all account information is correct and up-to-date. Double-check contact details, expected graduation year, and any demographic data.

Building Your Profile

  • The Core: The Common App requests basic information like family background, education, activities, and awards. Complete these sections thoroughly and accurately.

  • Standardized Testing (Optional): While some colleges are test-optional, the Common App allows you to submit SAT or ACT scores if required by your target schools.

  • The Essay: This is your chance to shine! The Common App offers several essay prompts. Choose one that allows you to showcase your unique voice and experiences.

Managing Deadlines and Organization

  • College Deadlines Matter: Each college sets its own application deadlines. Use the Common App's deadline tracker and calendar features to stay organized.

  • Early Action & Early Decision: Offering slightly increased chances for admission, Early Action and Early Decision deadlines are much earlier than regular admission dates.

  • Organize Early: Gather all application materials – transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores – well in advance. Store and track these documents electronically or use a physical folder system.

Presenting Your Best Self

  • Proofread Everything: Typos and grammatical errors can create a negative impression. Proofread all application sections and have someone else review them for clarity and flow.

  • Highlight Achievements: Don't list activities; focus on accomplishments and contributions within those activities. Use bullet points and quantifiable details where possible.

  • Stay Within Word Limits: The Common App has specific word limits for essays and short answer sections. Respect these limits and ensure your message is concise and impactful.

Additional Resources

  • The Common App Website: offers many resources, including tutorials, FAQs, and a help center.

  • College Websites: Each college has a dedicated admissions section outlining their application requirements and deadlines.

Working Together for Success

Familiarize yourself with the Common App early. Create a log-in and share it with your parents so everyone can become familiar with the platform well before application time. Stay organized and present information clearly. 

Remember, the Common App is just one step in the journey. Our previous guides explore other important aspects of college applications, including building a robust academic foundation and finding the perfect college fit.

Finding Your Best Fit College

Congratulations! You've embarked on a journey of exploration and preparation with your student. You've tackled strategic extracurricular activities, crafted a compelling essay showcasing their unique voice, and identified colleges that could be a perfect fit.  

Remember, the college application process is just the beginning. The most important thing is to find a school environment where your student can thrive and pursue their passions. Take a deep breath, celebrate your accomplishments, and embark on the next exciting chapter – exploring financial aid options and making informed college choices. With the knowledge you've gained throughout this guide, you and your student can confidently navigate the college admissions process.


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