Finding College Fit
When searching for colleges, keep in mind the three kinds of fit: Personal, Academic, and Financial. The steps outlined below will help you figure out what those factors are for you. Once you identify potential colleges, use our College Fit Worksheet (6.2022) to guide your research.
Every student look both inward and outward. Looking beyond surface characteristics will give a college search direction and result in better decisions. All of the resources linked in the section below are in the How to Create a Great College List handout by College Essay Guy/ Steve Antonoff/ Ted Fiske.
A school must be suited academically, and in most cases, that means numbers: GPA and Test Scores. We encourage students to come up with schools that are likely and/or possible.
College is priced like airline tickets, where almost everyone pays a different price. The challenge is to get a reasonable estimate of your net price, which may be very different than the sticker price. Everyone should look for outside scholarships, but the biggest grants and scholarships will come through the schools themselves. Research, done well ahead of applications, may literally pay off.
There are two main types of aid: need-based aid and merit aid. Figure out which you will qualify for and then figure out which schools are best to target for that kind of aid. All schools offer need-based aid, though some schools will cover much more need than others. Only some schools offer merit aid, and the criteria and amounts vary widely.
Figure out Your Priorities
There are so many factors that go into college decisions. Figure out what is most important to you.
Go to corsava.com, and if you are game (read the Learn More and Privacy sections--opt out of the third party information sharing by writing an email like this), sign up.
- Do a Card Sort
- Review your priorities
- Set it aside for a few days and then come back. Does the sort represent you?
If you wish, take it further on Corsava with their suggested next steps.
At least use the priorities to weigh factors. Your weighting will be different than your friend's weighting.
Know YourselfAt minimum, consider your learning style, academic goals, social needs, and what balance of comfort and challenge will be right for you.Use these tools to help you look at yourself:
Approach these tasks as the first steps to really considering aspects of yourself.Linked files by Steven Antonoff, Author of College Match and The College Finder.
- Self-Survey for the College Bound which asks about your educational attitudes, goals, and perspectives.
- Self-Knowledge Questionnaire which helps you think about yourself as a college student.
- Audit of College Success Traits, a more extensive and recent version of the Self-Knowledge Questionnaire
Consider What You Want in CollegeBefore you look at particular colleges, think about how your needs intersect with what a college has to offer. At minimum, consider these questions by ranking them.*What do you want college to do for you? Here are 12 possible reasons:
Use this College Planning Values Assessment which focuses on the above questions and has great advice no matter what your priorities. If the list above does not capture your goals, then figure out what you want college to do for you.
- To learn about different cultures, peoples, backgrounds, etc.
- To expand my potential lifetime earnings
- To learn essential life skills so that I can be a better parent and citizen
- To find a vocational direction in life
- To gain more independence and a greater sense of freedom
- To create long-lasting relationships and professional connections
- To have a fresh start where no one knows me
- To gain new skills and experiences
- To enable me to receive a degree from a high-quality school
- To explore the U.S. and perhaps the world
- To take advantage of college life: spectator sports, clubs, activities, etc.
- To get the best education possible at a reasonable cost
Examine College QualitiesBefore you look at particular colleges, consider the qualities themselves.Rather than immediately saying you want a big school or a selective school or one in a particular location, delve in to figure out what difference those each will make for your experience and goals.
Students often overgeneralize and limit themselves too soon.Use this Qualities that Will Make a College Right For You worksheet (it's a fillable PDF, so you can do it on the worksheet!) to help you consider:SizeAcademic EnvironmentAcademic OfferingsCost/ Availability of Financial AidReligionEthnicityCoeducation or Single SexStudent Body CharacteristicsStudent LifeActivities, Including AthleticsBig Name School or Best Fit School?Admission DifficultyLocationAcademic Success in CollegeFitting In/ Being Comfortable in CollegeMaterials by Steven Antonoff, Author of College Match and The College Finder.
Explore College Lists (not the lists you think!)Most people start with the popular college lists, but explore lists that are more specialized first. You want a breadth of options.
Use the lists on How to Create a Great College List
There are about 200 hyperlinked lists on pages 2, 3, and 4, with titles like:Colleges with Unusual Majors
Top Ten Activist Schools
Colleges Offering Community Service Scholarships
Colleges Where Humanities Ph.D.s Received Their Undergraduate Degrees
Colleges Most Like Hogwarts
Colleges for the Independent Learner
Colleges with Unconventional Grading Styles
Colleges with the Greatest DiversityAlma Maters of AstronautsHow to Create a Great College List College Essay Guy based on work by Steven Antonoff and Ted Fiske.Also explore college lists on CollegeXpress. From the dropdown at the top, you can browse Student Life or Majors or College Costs lists, or by typing in an aspect--bands, particular sports, an academic approach, or hundreds of other qualities--you can access lists that way.
Use Naviance for Shorewood DataEven though numbers are only part of the entire scenario, they can give you an idea of range. You should be in a school’s general GPA/ test score range to put that school on your list.Naviance has tools to help you see how you compare with other Shorewood students who have applied to a particular school. All are under the Colleges tab in the Naviance Family Connection accounts.ScattergramsMany colleges have a scattergram in Naviance. Colleges that are not often applied to by Shorewood students will not have one.Find scattergrams:Colleges tab > look for College Research section > select scattergrams > choose from dropdown; orColleges tab > Search for Colleges on top left > select the school > Admissions tab and scroll down.Scattergram for Sample student with 3.1 GPA and 1070 SAT and Shorewood applicants to Western Washington University. This student is in the ballpark for admission. Please use scattergrams to give you a general idea of admissions chances rather than an exact forecast.College CompareUse the College Compare tool in Naviance to see how your numbers compare to averages from up to 10 schools.College Lookup and College SearchLook up a school and explore the information, including a scattergram under the Admissions tab.SuperMatchThis tool has more than 20 factors that you can adjust in your search, including GPA and test scores.
Use Comparison Tools for National DataIt is essential to check the GPA and test score ranges of particular schools. For many reasons, the sweet spot to be in is the top 25% of the range. You will get better aid if the school wants you.
Below is a screen shot from the Enrollment Statistics page of the Seattle University website, found by searching "Seattle University freshman profile."
- Search “XYZ College freshman profile” to locate a set of statistics about the most recent class for a particular school. Identify the GPA and SAT/ ACT range.
- Go to CollegeData.com and search for a school. Use the Admissions tab and scroll down for GPA & test scores.
About our Unweighted GPAsUnweighted GPAWashington State requires school districts to have an unweighted GPA on a 4.0 scale, in which all course grades are weighted the same. Some states have a weighted GPA in which grades for honors or AP courses are worth more than grades in standard courses. Thus, a state might have a GPA on a 5.0 scale.Colleges receive applications from various states, and applications will always ask if your high school has a weighted or unweighted GPA. Select unweighted when filling out applications.Colleges know that Washington State has an unweighted GPA, and our Shorewood High School Profile also describes our grading scale, so admissions committees will make a fair comparison. Colleges usually use high school transcripts to convert all applicant GPAs to one common scale.
About Test ScoresTest Optional / Test Flexible SchoolsMore and more schools are realizing that test scores are not the best predictors of college performance. If your test scores are not an asset, then consider test-optional schools. About 1800 schools are test-optional or test-flexible. Check Fairtest.org or search “test optional schools” for the overall list and check college's websites for details. Some colleges are indeed completely test optional, and others will require other testing or grading to fulfill their requirements.All Four Year Colleges in Washington are Test OptionalIn September 2021, the public colleges in Washington announced that they are permanently test-optional. As of November 2021, we do not know of any in-state four year colleges that require test scores.Two Year Colleges Do Not Require SAT or ACT ScoresCommunity colleges have open enrollment, which means that all students are admitted. The vast majority do require some sort of placement test in order to place students in the correct course. In Washington, there are multiple ways to satisfy the testing requirement. See Shoreline Community College Placement to see how placement can be accomplished via: SBAC scores, high school transcript, the Accuplacer, or AP/ SAT/ ACT scores.
Be Aware of Admission RatesThe reality of admission rates means that not all students who meet the admissions criteria of a particular school will get in.
- Research admission rates using either a general search or a tool like CollegeData.com. On College Data, look under the Admission tab and scroll down to Profile of Fall Admission.
- Don’t have lists comprised only of schools with admission rates below 10%. That gives the schools too much power. You want to have choices and make decisions for yourself about your future.
- Do not regard low admission rates as an indicator of quality. Schools can manipulate admission rates to a great degree.
- Try to not regard denials as personal rejections. Some schools receive tens of thousands of applications from qualified applicants.
- Don’t think that all schools have low acceptance rates. Search: “XYZ College acceptance rate”. A few: Gonzaga University 67%; Linfield College 81%; Purdue University 56%; UW Seattle 45%; Earlham College 58%; UPS 83%.
Know the Numbers Sweet Spot
Numbers Sweet Spot: Know This!!
Optimal place to be in the range: students in about the top 25% of the range will get the most money at schools that offer their own merit scholarships.
If Your Numbers Don't Measure UpIf your numbers are below the range for a school you are consideringCheck to see how the school weighs factors when viewing applications. Different schools put differing emphasis on numbers when evaluating candidates.Go to CollegeData.com, search for the school, then select Admissions and scroll down to Selection of Students. If both GPA and Test Scores are regarded as "Very Important" and other factors are not, then think hard before you spend time and money on an application. If the school evaluates using many factors, then consider how your application may come across.If you genuinely think that your scores do not reflect your academic abilityConsider using the "extra information" section on applications to offer an honest explanation of your numbers. Back up your statements with evidence from other academic experiences.
Figure Out Your EFCYour EFC is your Estimated Family Contribution for each year of college.Please note that Federal Student Aid plans to change this term to Student Aid Index, or SAI.Be aware that most people gasp when they see their EFC. Amounts vary widely since income varies. An EFC of $5000 or less is considered low. An EFC of $30,000 or more is considered high. EFC goes down if you have multiple kids in college.Calculate your EFC using
Use your EFC to guide your search
- Federal Student Aid Estimator on the same site as the FAFSA, which you will fill out starting in fall of senior year.
- College Board’s EFC Calculator.
- EFC Quick Reference Table for a very rough estimate; it is from 2019-2020
- If your EFC is low-ish, you want to find schools that meet close to 100% of student need. Look for great need-based aid, which is often simply called financial aid.
- If your EFC is high-ish but you cannot pay for college outright, then you want schools that offer great merit aid.
- Most schools use the EFC to calculate any need-based aid you might receive.
Use Net Price CalculatorsThe net price of any particular college varies according to family circumstance and the college's particular financial aid practices.Use Net Price Calculators to
Do not use the Net Price Calculators to
- estimate what your family would pay for a particular school;
- test academic scenarios (what if test scores go up?);
- weigh impact of assets;
- refine what type of schools will work for your family.
To estimate your net price for particular schools, use one, two, or all of the following
- create an exact budget; consider the net price result to be a ballpark figure.
Note that the more questions an NPC asks, the more accurate the results will be. Some NPCs are too simple and the figure may not be a reliable estimate.
- Use individual Net Price Calcuators on each college’s financial aid page. The easiest way to find it is to search “XYZ College Net Price Calculator.”
- Use the College Board’s Net Price Calculator, which is well-regarded. 200+ schools are available.
Try a College Pricing Tool
There are now several tools that aggregate data from colleges' Common Data Sets to help you figure out:
- If/ how much colleges will cover financial need
- Which colleges offer merit aid and to what % of students
- Average size of awards
These vary from a simple spreadsheet to more complex search & pricing tools. Some are free and some have free starter tools with more sophisticated tools for a fee:
- College Transitions Dataverse, with various presentations of Merit Aid, Cost of Attendance, Need-Blind Colleges, and more
- Big J Educational Consulting Resources including a summary of Need and Merit Aid
- College Insights from Road2College; enter several schools and compare costs, average awards, and view actual crowdsourced offers
- TuitionFit aggregates actual offers, so you will have to create an account. Watch the video to see if you want to try it.
- MeritMore has a merit aid search tool and other options.
- CollegeAidPro has some free resources and annual plans for a fee to access more tools. Try a free account first, then decide if you would use the tools involved with a fee-based plan. The tools here have a lot of potential.
- Moore College Data has aggregated a Moore College Dataset.
- MyinTuition (free) is best for calculating need-based aid at 70+ colleges, though few Northwest colleges as of Fall 2022. Check MyinTuition.org to see if the colleges on your list have joined.
Investigate Need-Based Aid
Your goal is to find schools that will meet a high percentage of your need.Start by searching for “colleges that meet 100% of need”.Several lists will come up. Look through those, but do not limit yourself to schools on that list. With any criteria, there are schools that are very close to being on the list.Be a good student.Many of the schools on “meet full need” lists are very selective. Colleges will provide more aid to students they want, and GPA and test scores matter.
Look up each school's average need coverage.
Be cautious about loans.The national average loan load for college graduates is above $30,000. Zero is best; anything around or above $30K total is high. Beware of schools that have high student indebtedness. That isn’t truly meeting need. Federal student loans have several advantages over private student loans, but any student loans can be tricky and there may be national changes coming that add complications and cost.
- On CollegeData.com, search for a school, then go to the Money Matters tab and look at the Profile of Financial Aid showing the latest year available. You will see both the average % of need and the average indebtedness of graduates.
- On the College Board’s Big Future page, bigfuture.collegeboard.org, search for a school. When it comes up, click Paying on the left then Financial Aid By the Numbers on the top. Look for: % of need met, average need-based package; % of students who have their full financial need met.
- Use this spreadsheet Domestic Undergraduate Need-Based and Merit Aid (August 2020) for compiled figures for about 300 colleges.
Investigate Merit-Based Aid
Not all schools offer merit aid. Generally, the most selective schools—Ivies and the most elite private schools—do not offer merit aid because plenty of families are willing and apparently able to pay full price. There is not one centralized method to finding merit aid options. Try the following:
- Use colleges’ own financial aid websites to determine whether they offer merit aid, and if they do, what the thresholds are. Sometimes a school will have award levels according to GPA and test scores. If a student is close to a level but not quite there, ask a college representative if the criteria is firm. If it is, consider taking a test one more time to try to bump up to a particular level. A point on the ACT could be worth $5000.
- Use this Merit Aid Tool by College Transitions www.collegetransitions.com/dataverse/merit-aid, which includes 360 selective colleges. At colleges like Harvard or Reed, 0% of students receive merit aid; at UW Seattle, it's 9%; at Whitman, it's 61%; at Gonzaga, it's 100%. Also see average awards. If your college is not listed, try the other methods below.
- Use CollegeData.com; look up a school, go to Money Matters tab and look for the Profile of Financial Aid. See Merit-Based Gift under both Freshmen and All Undergraduates. Note the % of students who received merit aid and the average amount of the gift.
- Use one of the College Pricing Tools listed above
- Use this spreadsheet Domestic Undergraduate Need-Based and Merit Aid (August 2020) for compiled figures for about 300 colleges.
- If you are good with spreadsheets, consider using one of the spreadsheets from DIY College Rankings. A blogger has compiled the data from hundreds of colleges and tutorials show you ways to search for what you are looking for.
Consider Western Undergraduate Exchange
Many public schools in the Western US have a mutual agreement that will reduce tuition for qualified students. This program is commonly referred to as WUE, pronounced whoo-eee. Note that:
Search and ask for details and apply early; participating schools give out a limited number of WUE awards.Please note that the “in state tuition is less expensive” guideline only applies to public schools. Private schools do not have in-state/ out-of-state pricing.
- For public colleges, out-of-state students normally pay about 300% of what in-state students do.
- WUE students pay 150% of the in-state tuition, which can mean significant savings.
- Requirements vary: academic achievement and the timing of your application usually make a difference, and not all majors are included.
- Participation varies: UC schools in California do not participate, and neither do the Oregon Flagship schools (Oregon State or U of Oregon). However, the University of Idaho, Boise State, Montana State, and the University of Montana do participate, and the cost of these schools can end up being comparable to Washington public schools for many students.
- Search the list on www.wiche.edu/wue to find participating schools and programs.
Check Graduation Rates
College will cost more if you have to pay for more years. The best way to contain college costs is to graduate in four years, but that can be difficult at some schools. In fact, most students take longer than four years to graduate.
To check rates
- In Washington, the average four year graduation rate for public 4-year colleges is 44.1% and the six-year rate is 68.1%.
- In Washington, the average four year graduation rate for private 4-year colleges is 57.8% and the six year rate is 70.8%.
- Use College Completion to look up by college or by state.
- Use CollegeData.com to look up by school. Use the Students tab to check 4-year, 5-year, and 6-year graduation rates as well as retention rates.
Check Average Indebtedness
You do not want to be drowning in debt during or after college. A dream school can quickly become a nightmare if you are saddled with an insurmountable financial burden.If you think you may rely on loans to help cover college costs, check the average indebtedness at each school you are considering.
- Go to CollegeData.com and search for a school. On the Overview tab, scroll down to the Money Matters section, and look for Average Indebtedness of Graduates.
- Use College Navigator to check the Cohort Default Rate of graduates who took out loans. If this is high, ask why.
Understand & Search for Scholarships
Understand how Scholarships Work & Start Searching for Them
Most financial assistance will come through the institution, but students & families should also investigate outside scholarships. See the Scholarships page for information and ten ways to search for Scholarships.
View the Finding College Fit presentation (pdf) from June 2020 that covers personal and academic fit.
View the Financial Fit & Financial Aid Process Preview (pdf) or listen & watch the presentation: Financial Fit & Financial Aid Process Screencast.
College Search Tools
Which Tool to Use?
Start here when you are choosing which search engine/ tools you will use. This list shows some major options, and outlines what each tool is best for.
Figure out Your Priorities with Corsava
Corsava helps you figure out your perspnal priorities via a card search. Sign up for free.
Find Colleges by Unconventional Lists
Want to know which colleges look like Hogwarts? Which ones are good for vegetarians? Have students who care about politics? Explore these lists. This tool is especially useful after you have done a Corsava search to figure out your priorities.
College Major FInder
Created by Jon Boeckenstedt. Figure out which colleges offer which majors, and filter by state or other factors. This information is also in the Naviance SuperMatch tool.
Majors & Careers
Wondering which majors end up in which careers? Look at this interactive compilation. While the data is specific to one college, the actual information is not. Give it a try and see what you can do with a _____ degree.
Find and compare information on 270+ programs for students with intellectual disabilities.
How to Evaluate the Quality of a College's Program for a Specific Major
Video of presentation by Carolyn Kost, East West Educational.
Guidebook for American Indian Students
The Native Pathways: A College-Going Guidebook provides relatable college-going content for Native American high school students that speaks to their culture, ways of knowing, and experiences as they consider options for attending college.
Campus Safety & Security
Look up reported safety & security data for a particular school or compare multiple schools.
Our primary college search tool. Each student has an account, and parent/guardians have observer accounts. See the Naviance page for more information. Students log with the same username & password as they do for Canvas & Google.
Academic & Financial Fit Tools
List & Links compiled by George Schneiderman in 2021-22. Includes a link to a mock FAFSA Formula sheet. Note that some information may be outdated, and that the new name for EFC/ Estimated Family Contribution is SAI/ Student Aid Index.
Paying for College in Four Steps
College Essay Guy guide to the $$ aspect of college. Reliable information broken down clearly for families.
Using the College Board's EFC Calculator should be one of your first steps.
30+ mostly selective schools use this College Cost Calculator. Answer a series of questions, and then get an estimate.
US Dept of Education site with grad rate*, avg annual costs*, financial aid & debt stats*, range of graduates' salaries, and student body stats.
A variety of data: avg net price compared to similar insitutions; avg financial aid by income level; loan default rates; admissions; enrollment; retention; completion time; common majors & industries; diversity; institutional finances.
Equitable Value Explorer
Aims to examine the value of education received by post-college earnings.
Need-Based & Merit-Based Aid Summary
Compiles latest stats for 450 colleges. Look for: % of need met, % of students receiving merit award, amount of average merit award. Download and customize to your needs. updated 8.2021
Merit Aid by Institution
Includes 360 selective colleges. By College Transitions.
Buyers and Sellers
Jeff Selingo, author of Who Gets In and Why, has brought together admission rates and financial award norms of about 40 universities. For an explanation of the Buyer and Seller designations, see https://jeffselingo.com/which-colleges-are-really-buyers-and-which-are-sellers/ . Some colleges offer money to entice students to come, but others do not have to in order to attract students.