Finding College Fit
When searching for colleges, keep in mind the three kinds of fit: Personal, Academic, and Financial.
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.
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.Materials by Steven Antonoff, Author of College Match and The College Finder.
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?A. To provide me with a place to learn and study.B. To provide me with opportunities to interact with teachers in and outside of the classroom.C. To provide me with lots of fun experiences.D. To prepare me to make a lot of money.E. To provide me with recognition for accomplishments.F. To get politically involved and/or to use much of my college years to help those who are disadvantaged.G. To prepare me for a career.H. To enable me to be more independent.I. To provide opportunities for me to grow religiously or spiritually.J. To provide me with a variety of new experiences.K. To receive a degree from a prestigious school.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.
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 handout 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.
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.
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. More than 900 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 Require SAT or ACT ScoresNo four-year colleges in Washington State are test optional or test flexible.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.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 usingUse your EFC to guide your search
- 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 College Insights
On College Insights from Road2College, you can enter several schools and compare costs, average awards, and view actual crowdsourced offers. When you enter schools and get the spreadsheet, scroll right to see:
• % Neet Met
• Average Financial Aid for First Year Students with Need
• Crowdsourced Need-Based Offers
• % First Year Students without Need
• % Students without Need Receiving Merit Aid
• Average Merit Aid for First Years without Need (restricted information; membership required for this detail)
• Merit Scholarship Categories
• Crowdsourced Merit-Based Offers
• Cost of Attendance (in & Out of State if different)
• Average Net Price
• Average Net Price by famiy income
• First Year Students with non-Federal Student Loans
• Average Non-Federal Student Loans
• % Grads with Any Type of Loans
• Average Balance from Loans
• College Endowment per Student
This tool can be an excellent, introductory way to compare colleges' patterns for awarding aid.
Try MyinTuition...for some collegesMyinTuition College Cost CalculatorMyinTuition is a relatively easy tool to estimate your family's cost for a particular school, like an aggregated Net Price Calculator. It is best for calculating need-based aid. The list of colleges is growing, though none are in the Northwest as of January 2020. Check the website, MyinTuition.org to see if the colleges on your list have joined.Member colleges as of 1.22.2020Amherst CollegeBabson CollegeBarnard CollegeBates CollegesBentley UniversityBoston CollegeBoston UniversityBowdoin CollegeBrandeis UniversityBrown UniversityBucknell UniversityCaltech UniversityCarleton CollegeCentre CollegeColby CollegeColgate UniversityCollege of the Holy CrossColorado CollegeColumbia UniversityDartmouth CollegeDavidson UniversityDickinson CollegeDuke UniversityEmory UniversityGeorgetown UniversityGrinnell CollegeHamilton CollegeHarvard CollegeJohns Hopkins UniversityKenyon CollegeLafayette CollegeMacalester CollegeMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyMiddlebury CollegeMount Holyoke CollegeNortheastern UniversityNorthwestern UniversityOberlin CollegePitzer CollegePomona CollegeRice UniversitySkidmore CollegeSmith CollegeSt. Olaf CollegeScripps CollegeSkidmore CollegeSmith CollegeStanford UniversityTufts UniversityUnion CollegeUniversity of DenverUniversity of MassachusettsUniversity of Notre DameUniversity of PennsylvaniaUniversity of RichmondUniversity of RochesterUniversity of VirginiaVanderbilt UniversityVassar UniversityWashington & Lee UniversityWashington University in St. LouisWellesley CollegeWesleyan UniversityWilliams CollegeYale University
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, which includes 360 selective colleges. While colleges like Harvard have 0% of students receiving merit aid, 49% of Gonzaga students receive merit aid, and the average award is $14,749. If your college is not listed, try the other methods below.
- Use Cappex.com. Go to Scholarships along the top, then scroll down to the Merit Aid Scholarships section. You do not need to create a profile. Look up by college name or by state, then look up the criteria for the particular named scholarships. [Note: as of July 2018, the Cappex format has changed, and it may or may not be useful for investigating widely-available merit aid.]
- 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 this spreadsheet Domestic Undergraduate Need-Based and Merit Aid (August 2020) for compiled figures for about 300 colleges.
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%.
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.
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.