The Right Fit

What is the right college fit and, how will you know it when you try it on?

A lot of factors compose a ‘right fit’: size, location, academics, housing, costs, social life, extracurricular, even the personality of the campus. While it would be nice to be scientific and run around each campus with a clipboard recording what is appealing and revolting, possibly it’s best to just trust your gut. If you’ve visited a number of campuses and met dozens of students during your odyssey, you’ll know. Let instinct rule.    

Or don’t. Let’s instead turn to a little science: a study from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA in 2012 conducted over 190,000 full-time students entering 283 four year colleges and statistically projectionable across that year’s entering class. The survey discovered the primary reason for attending college was “to be able to get a better job” (88%); followed by to be “well off financially” (81%); and finally, “… to gain a general education and appreciation of ideas” (73%). One other factor in the fit was ‘the cost of attending’.   

Getting a better job is comparable to finding something you enjoy doing that is rewarding, stimulating and challenging. Is this fit or is this just practicality? No telling, but it does appear to be reality. Furthermore, a lot of students believe that this might be gained by majoring in business as an undergraduate, since almost a quarter of college students select a business related major. At University of California, Irvine, to gain admittance into the undergraduate business program a student needs a minimum GPA of 3.8. It’s comparably competitive to gain admission into the undergraduate business major at Emory, University of California Berkeley, or NYU. Does gaining a spot in the undergraduate business department ensure a ‘good fit’? It might, but then since there are no guarantees, trying to gain admittance may cause a fit of frustration rather than a good fit.

To become well off financially is an understandable criterion for many matriculating students who are looking at their graduating counterparts and noticing that they are encumbered with over $1 trillion in debt. Obviously, eventually attaining a level of wealth makes sense.     

The problem is what capabilities will ensure a satisfying job and eventual financial stability? When I was an undergraduate, there were no personal computers, let alone the Internet or phone applications. As any Buddhist will tell you, the only thing we can be certain of is constant change. Therefore a good education needs to teach us how to take advantage of change and adjust accordingly.  

Siva Vaidhyanathan writes in The Googolization of Everything: “Learning is by definition an encounter with what you don’t know, what you haven’t thought of, what you couldn’t conceive, and what you never understood or entertained as possible.” A major might define the focus of your studies and be instrumental in your perceived fit, but it’s the problems, challenges, and side trips into subjects of seeming irrelevance that might lead to the rewards you seek.

Steve Jobs discussed his college experience at the 2005 Stanford Commencement: “I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out… Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class…If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

The best fit is where you find the safety and trust to explore and discover the unknown, to take intellectual risks and to swim freely among your legacy of wisdom, doubt, knowledge, and confusion, to emerge insatiably curious and resolute in creating your own unique footprint upon the world. It’s the right fit: you make it so.