Searching for the right fit? College fit, that is!

I talk to thousands of parents each year about all aspects of college planning, and it truly is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. Helping families make sense of it all can be overwhelming, particularly parents of juniors who are just embarking on the college process.

With school vacations just around the corner, it's a great time to plan a college visit and explore your options as a family.

Here are some easy steps to get started in making a plan of action:

    1. Build a college list.
      Often times, you will hear folks say "make sure the college is the right 'fit'." The right fit needs to be academic, demographic and social. It is easy to determine the fit of the first criteria from a visit to the college website where information on academic and admission requirements can be found. It is less easy (although some colleges do provide virtual tours) to determine fit from a demographic and social perspective without getting a feel for the actual campus vibe by visiting and touring the campus if possible. What does it feel like to be in a city? Does the student like a more rural campus environment or something in between? Try the innovative interview on to explore what you may be interested in.

    1. Get on the road and plan a visit.
      White it may not be feasible to visit every campus on the list, especially if there is significant travel involved, a student can gain valuable insight from visiting "types" of colleges. This will help inform and clarify what "fit" actually means. With the many "makes and models" of institutions right here in the Commonwealth, exploring a large urban university, a small suburban college and the flagship public university is all possible within a 2 1/2 hour drive. Even if these colleges don't make it on the list, by providing the experience the student can determine comfort within each type of environment.

College campuses are open environments that allow for a family to attend a theatre production, a sporting event or even a lecture without actually being enrolled. Additionally, while a campus tour is a great way to get a feel for numerous parts of the college experience, many colleges have maps available so families can do a self-guided tour. Visiting the campus while college is in session allows students to determine if they "fit" on the campus and if the campus fits them.

As the student begins to refine his or her list, making "formal" visits to the colleges the student is interested in is important. Some colleges gauge the student's level of interest as a part of the admissions review. Taking a formal tour and attending an information session are ways to indicate that interest. Admissions counselors want to engage with students on lots of different levels and this is one way to do so.

So take some time during the upcoming vacation week, and make a plan to visit some colleges that are right here in the heart of the Commonwealth. Take a stroll, check out some campuses and make every effort to see what they're like. Exploring the college atmosphere during junior year will help to refine and define the college list and determine what is important to each student. Searching for the right fit takes time, and it's yours to take hold of.