College guidance

Adopt a systematic Research Cycle for finding the perfect fit college

With a world of universities out there, deciding which ones to apply to can be a daunting process. The Research Cycle suggested here will make it easier for students.

Richard Lord
September 30, 2022
4 min
Adopt a systematic Research Cycle for finding the perfect fit college
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Adopt a systematic Research Cycle for finding the perfect fit college

There are about 25,000 universities globally, including more than 4,000 in the US alone. So the number one message students need to understand when it comes to researching their college choices is- it takes time.

While students might think that there’s just a single college out there that’s perfect for them, in reality, there are certainly quite a few that will suit them very well. Having a balanced portfolio when it comes to shortlisting colleges is ideal.

Widen the scope of college research 

Limited information about a prospective college can be problematic for any student. If they are just going by the ranking, or have set their heart on a particular location, or considering only the placements, it is not enough. They need to widen the gamut of their college research as there can be a number of suitable colleges for them. 

Jeff Neill, Director of College Counseling at Graded – the American School of São Paulo says, far too frequently, students think that knowing the name of a college, the location of a college, or even that a college matches one of their search criteria is enough. Instead, they need to invest time in exploring colleges and understand what they are saying about themselves. 

Students also need to explore their strengths and preferences, and realize that their choices could change during the application process. Jeff advises students to find multiple colleges. 

“It is a dangerous pathway to go down, finding one and only one school that you think would be a good fit for you. There are going to be hundreds of schools that match your criteria.”

Jeff Neill, Director of College Counseling at Graded – the American School of São Paulo in Brazil.

Self-exploration: the other side of the coin

Before they even start thinking about universities, students need to think about themselves and understand what they’re looking for in a college. Cialfo counselors can help students gain clarity about their college and career goals

An extremely useful tool for students is the Fit Pie Chart, which is divided into three sections, reflecting the main categories into which a university’s attributes and a student’s preferences fall: academic, social, and financial. Jeff recommends that students try to work out how crucial each of those sections is for them – in other words, to what extent they prioritize each of those three factors when searching for a college.

“It’s as much a matter of who you are and getting to know yourself as it is about your getting to know universities,” says Neill. “Some of the self-exploration that’s required of the college search process is in areas you’ve never had to explore before.”

Students are encouraged to narrow their focus by working out their priorities within the three broad target areas. Here’s a gist of what each of them includes:

  • Academic considerations: availability of particular majors, class sizes, support programs, opportunities to study abroad, or the availability of internships. 
  • Social considerations: location of the college, availability of sports and other extracurricular activities, or the university’s culture and spirit. 
  • Financial considerations: availability of both need and merit-based financial aid, the career prospects that could result from attending a particular college. 

Students can use the Cialfo platform to filter colleges using more than 20 factors under the categories mentioned above. Once students list all the factors, the next step would be to identify the ones that matter the most to them, and then evaluate the colleges on the basis of their final criteria. 

Students can download the Fit Pie Chart by filling the form below and easily make a checklist of their preferred factors. 

The Research Cycle

Once a student has worked out what they want from a university, they will be able to figure out which universities will match their needs. Neill recommends using the Research Cycle, which is as follows:

  • Rank the criteria under all categories on the basis of the priority.
  • Check the college profiles by visiting the college website or Cialfo platform. 
  • Assess the colleges by matching the features of the colleges against their checklist of selection criteria
  • Repeat the process. Revisit the original criteria and see if they need to be refined

Another useful tool to find colleges that meet a student’s needs is the Preference Fit feature of Cialfo. Students answer questions in seven categories, and the system makes suggestions based on their answers for colleges that might be suitable for them.

How to find colleges

When it comes to ascertaining which colleges are worth shortlisting, there’s a whole range of resources that students can use. Students can ask for opinions of people around them, including counselors, senior students, family and friends, particularly those who have graduated recently.

Here Cialfo is particularly useful, allowing students to create a college longlist and shortlist. The initial list of all the colleges that they are considering will be added to the long list, and moved to the shortlist if their research confirms that a college is a good fit for them. They then need to go through the shortlisted colleges’ websites thoroughly and work out if they fit their criteria. 

“When we start to generate names of places, those names can come from anywhere,” says Neill. “They don’t have to come from a book or a search engine, although those are important places to start.”

College fairs and virtual visits are some of the most effective ways to learn about a school, and they're uniquely helpful to get to know a place. Use the Direct Apply feature on Cialfo to search for programs, shortlist them and apply with ease.

To find a college that’s right for them, students need to put the time in, searching for schools, shortlisting the ones they like, researching them – and then repeating that process until they arrive at the ones they like best. They should always be open-minded: during the research process, they will almost certainly find new things that are important to them, and change the weight that they attach to each of their priorities. Finally, they should remember to call on the help of the experts: college counselors and Cialfo’s student education advisors can guide them through the journey. Watch the glimpses of the webinar to make the best use of our college research checklist.

We are thankful to Jeff Neill, Director of College Counseling at Graded – the American School of São Paulo in Brazil for sharing the College Research Cycle and Fit Pie chart concept.

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