A Modern College Search Philosophy

College Search Starter Kit: Post 1

The difference between my college consulting framework and a more traditional college search approach lies in the intended outcomes. Whereas many people focus on finding the right college fit, which is usually some arbitrary balance of reputation, location and costs, I think that’s an outdated model. My mission is to ensure every college-bound student graduates with something far more valuable than four-years of memories and a piece of paper to present at their first job interview. I believe students deserve to find a modernized “right fit”, one that leaves them with the flexibility and skills needed to pursue (or find) their ideal post-graduation life; including a framework for making difficult life-decision. And I think of my College Search Starter Kit series as a first-step towards that aim. Let’s spark some new ideas about finding the right college fit…

Over the last decade I have worked with hundreds of college-bound students and through this experience I’ve come to believe that where you earn a degree plays a far smaller (and very different) role in lifetime happiness and success than we’re led to believe – and actually, as we’ll discuss in the next post, this has been my personal experience as well!

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

As we get started I would encourage you to check out this summary review of a 2014 New York Times article titled “Elite Colleges Don’t Buy Happiness for Graduates”.  It goes beyond the title to suggest that future happiness and success is perhaps equally dependent on the individual student, and traits like internal drive and intelligence, as it is on the selectiveness of their degree…which should produce a huge, collective sigh of relief, but from my experience is a concept that is only just beginning to factor into the typical college search (note: I am not affiliated with the company who posted this article, nor am I advocating for their services. You must have a New York Times subscription to read the actual article, but I felt like this link gives a nice summary).


It’s hard to say for sure, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the world is changing so rapidly that conventional (and particularly college search) wisdom hasn’t yet caught up with modern realities.

For example, one thing I have seen through both my work as a high school counselor and more recently my work as a private college consulting professional is that, although the cost of college has skyrocketed (it’s up by as much as 25% over the last 10-years depending on which source you reference)*, and technological advances are reshaping the face of the professional landscape that today’s high school students will graduate (college) into, most students still approach their college decision the same way I did twenty years ago; when the stakes were considerably lower!

Specifically, people still seem to latch on to the old conventional wisdom of, “Get the best college degree you can and your future will be secure!”, but while I’m not sure this was ever the iron clad advice many of us believed; it certainly isn’t today. Particularly when “the best college degree” is based on ranks and prestige, and this philosophy is applied equally to all situations and at nearly any cost.

The result? 

We end up with elementary school teachers earning $45,000 a year while struggling with six-figure debt loads!

In short, we need to change the way we think about college, what constitutes the “right fit”, and how we approach the college decision process… 

College can no longer be viewed as a four-year requirement that students must simply fulfill to have a rewarding life, which means we can no longer afford to take short-cuts like attending the most highly rated college possible regardless of the sacrifices it may require. 

We must also stop viewing a college degree as some sort of insurance policy against career and/or financial difficulties. In fact, if we are not careful with our decision, college can now be the cause of some of the greatest financial and professional difficulties we will face.

And the best way to do this is to stop viewing the “right fit” as little more than a place where we can envision four years of fun culminating in fond memories, new friends and a piece of paper to secure your first job.

So how should we view college then? 

Well first I should mention that fun, fond memories and new friends are all great, and they should all be part of the college experience, and further, in many cases, a college degree is still the optimal route to your ideal future. It’s just that the landscape has changed, and the repercussions of a poor decision have become extremely damaging, so we need to be a lot more strategic about the decision than perhaps students have been in the past – and we must demand far more in return from both the process of deciding and our ensuing investment to ensure we are not only educated, but well-positioned for success in an increasingly uncertain world.

So to me this means we need to stop viewing a college as this “experience” that only exists for four-years, which we must endure because it has the power to deliver us to our ideal life, and instead view it as one component of a strategic life plan – even when we are still uncertain about the full picture of what that life plan entails. 

Or perhaps put another way, we need to view the college search process, and college itself, as an investment in our future – one that has the power to generate positive returns, in multiple facets of our life, beginning immediately and for years to come…long after the bell rings on our final class, and long after we use our diploma to secure that first interview.

How do we do this?

For me it starts with three aims…

Whether I am working with a student one-on-one or presenting to organizations, clubs or counseling departments I always say that if the following three things don’t happen through the college search process, the process is not only incomplete, but there is a real risk that the value of the subsequent college degree, no matter which institution it comes from, will have been significantly reduced:

1 – The student learns a reliable framework for making difficult decisions, which they can carry forward in their life; from situation analysis, to organizing the process, to researching the available options, to making the final decision.

2 – The student moves beyond making a near term decision focused on a four-year experience, a piece of paper and those first job interviews, to focus on the long term implications of their decision and the potential impacts on future happiness and success. In other words, the student treats their college decision like a true investment in their future – with identified desirable “returns”.

3 – The student’s post-graduation position is projected to be one of power; meaning after graduation they should have several possible paths open to them and the flexibility and skills required to pursue the most desirable paths or to continue their search – i.e. obtaining a college degree will not have come at the expense of flexibility and opportunity.

Now to be clear, even if all three of these things happen there is no guarantee a lifetime of happiness and success will follow; however, I don’t think anyone would argue that having the ability to make difficult decisions with confidence, and the flexibility and support needed to pursue a wide range of possible life-paths is a bad position to be in – particularly since the adjustments needed to turn a traditional college search and exploration process into something more fit for modern realities is only marginally more labor and thought intensive.

So at this point you may be wondering what my process looks like… 

That’s the topic of the next post in this College Search Starter Kit series. For now just know that if the college search process you have in your mind looks like the below…you’re missing a few critical steps and will definitely want to keep reading!

1 – Input your base-criteria into a search tool like College Board

2 – Generate a sensible list of target schools

3 – Conduct internet based research on those schools focusing on the five college pillars (geographic location, quality of academics, social dynamics, extra-curricular offerings and financials)

4 – Discuss the decision with a school counselor, your parents and a few friends

5 – Visit the “last schools standing”

6 – Choose and apply 

Alright, that’s all for now. If you liked this post I hope you will share it using the buttons on the left, and if you haven’t already, join the Your Path College Consulting Online Community below for more articles, tips, tools and strategies!

It’s a fantastic companion to the College Search Starter series.

And remember, you can always use my home page to submit your most pressing college search questions and I’ll  do my best to provide you with my professional opinion.  No sales, no pressure, just answers!

See you in the next post!

* We’ll discuss this in more detail in a later post in this series.

Why Make a Six-Figure Decision Alone?

Sometimes all you need to make a wise college decision is the right piece of guidance at the right time. Which is why I created the YOUR PATH COLLEGE CONSULTING ONLINE COMMUNITY where I share tips, tools and advice, answer your most burning college questions via email, and much more. Join the FREE COMMUNITY to get a closer look at my EIGHT-STEP PROCESS and start dominating your college search TODAY!

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