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Understanding College Fit and Match

This article helps provide information about the importance of your mentee's college list. You will be guided through the attributes of a college list, and why they are vital for your mentee to consider. 

The following information is abridged from What College Match and Fit Are All About and Measuring Academic Fit: Reach, Match, Safety Schools.

Match

The degree to which a student’s academic credentials, financial needs, and career area are a “match” to academic competitiveness and historic completion rates of the college or university to which they enroll.

“Match” primarily refers to the numbers: GPA and test scores. When looking at colleges’ profiles, look at the mid-fifty percent figures for each. 

If a potential applicant falls within that range, that’s potentially a good match academically. 

If the applicants falls above or below the mid-fifty percent range, the school may still be a match, since 25% each way having those scores were accepted.

The Threat of Undermatching i.e. students attending less challenging colleges than their academic credentials would allow them to. This behavior is troubling not because it happens at all but because it disproportionately occurs among disadvantaged students.

Fit

“Fit” on the other hand, is “everything else” including dimensions like distance from a student’s home and geographic location, campus atmosphere and degree of inclusivity, level of accommodation of and services for first-generation students, academic programs offered and more.

“Fit” is a much more nebulous concept, referring to how well the prospective student might mesh with the institution once on campus. Students need to consider their own personalities as they make their decisions about where to apply.

Safety vs. Target vs. Reach Colleges

Academic fit is a measure of the likelihood of a student being admitted to a college, based on the student’s academic performance. The simplest method of measuring academic fit is to compare the student’s high school grade point average (GPA) and college admissions test scores with the typical range for students enrolled at the college.

Safety

A safety school is a college or university where the student’s academic performance falls above the range of academic performance of the school’s typical freshman class. A student is likely to be admitted to a safety school. A safety school is a college where the student’s test scores are above the 75th percentile of test scores for students admitted by the college.

Target (also called Match)

A match school is a college or university where the student’s academic performance falls within the range of academic performance of the school’s typical freshman class. (Match schools were previously called “target” schools.) A student has a good chance of being admitted by a match school. A match school is a college where the student’s test scores are between the 25th and 75th percentiles of test scores for students admitted by the college.

Reach 

A reach school is a college or university where the student’s academic performance falls short of the academic performance of the school’s typical freshman class. A student is unlikely to be admitted to a reach school.  A reach school is a college where the student’s test scores are below the 25th percentile of test scores for students admitted by the college.