JULY 2019
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A Lesson Learned About College Fit

By Daniel McKelvey and Robert LeVine

Last week, I spoke with my longtime friend, Daniel McKelvey. His daughter Ginger had just decided to transfer to the University of San Diego from the University of Colorado. Ginger was ecstatic. So was Daniel.

“Bob, I’ve heard you talk about ‘fit’ for years, but now I’m living it. You couldn’t be more right.”

Daniel explained that although Colorado is a good school, it did not work for Ginger as well as everyone had expected. He then expressed remorse. As parents, they had not known how to advise their daughter properly.

I asked Daniel to share their story so that others could benefit.

“Colorado-Boulder is a large state university with over 35,000 students and lots to offer. Originally, we thought Boulder was a perfect fit for Ginger. The school had a strong program in Communications (her original major), an ice rink and team (she competes in figure skating), and things to do around the clock, especially outdoors. But after two years, Ginger noticed CU’s inadequacies and wanted more.

“What was her logic?

“First, very few courses are taught by professors. Lower division classes are taught by graduate students, and most teaching assistants are just upper division undergraduates.

“Second, Ginger had grown to like computer science. Although Colorado seemed strong in comp sci, the specific area that Ginger wanted to pursue was not given sufficient attention or resources.

“Third, even though there was a team, ice skating was not recognized as a competitive sport. As a result, there was no school backing, no financial support for equipment or traveling, and no coaches. For a D1 school, this reality was very disappointing and didn’t give Ginger the chance to re-energize herself outside the classroom.

“I would like other parents to learn several lessons from our family’s first college experience.

“Evaluate the school on a holistic approach. Do not reject or embrace a school because it does or does not have a great stadium, a modern computer science lab, nice dormitories or good food. Stay open-minded.

“Ask questions of the department head or professors in the academic majors of interest. Learn about their teaching methods, class sizes, resources and office hours, and make sure that what they provide works for your student.

“Talk to the sponsors, managers, and leaders of relevant extracurriculars. Do your research about how committed the school and the students really are. Again, make sure it’s right for you.

“Chat with students across campus, both upper and lower division. Get a feel for the campus, the culture, the connectedness of the people, and the social scene. Is this what you are looking for?

“Spend time off campus. Is there anything there for you? Get a feel for local activities, restaurants, entertainment, night life, and the vibe.

“Be cautious of what other parents say to you. They tend to support their kids’ schools a bit too much and can give unbalanced reviews.

“Do not try to choose a school first and then apply. Think of the admissions effort as a process for gathering options. Apply, get accepted, and then pick your school. There are tons of variables. You will know much more about the school as time goes on, and your opinions may change.

“In our selection of USD, we avoided a lot of our previous mistakes. Based on the school, majors, professors, student life, campus, and the surrounding areas, we feel that Ginger will thrive much more in San Diego than in Boulder.”

In our opinion, the two most important factors in evaluating “fit” are academic structure and overall environmental influences. Without professional guidance, Daniel and Ginger learned this through experience. Although the first university choice was decent, the next phase of Ginger’s academic life promises to be much more inspirational.

Daniel is right. Do your homework.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of University Consultants of America, can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email rlevine@universitycoa.com or visit www.SelectiveCollegeConsulting.com

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