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In the first blog in our five-part series, we discussed how to help juniors begin thinking about their post-high school plans and the importance of helping students “see” themselves in college. In the second blog we talked about the importance of helping students reflect on their needs, preferences, hopes, and academic and financial boundaries.

Now we turn our attention to helping students begin building a balanced list of colleges. “Building a balanced list” is something the myOptions team talks about a lot because of the long-term implications it carries for students (some research on that below). What does it mean to have a balanced list? The simple formula below is a great place to start:

Match + Fit = Balanced List

How is “Match” defined?

First, it’s important to note we’re talking about “Match” in the context of academics. (We’ll focus on non-academic factors, or “Fit,” next week!) “Match” can be thought of as an alignment between a student’s academic background, interests, and potential and the intellectual opportunities, rigors, and expectations at a given college. On the student’s side, we often talk about GPA, test scores, their learning environment, and/or the rigor of a student’s coursework, and on the college side we often focus on a college’s admissions criteria, academic programs, and majors.

Why is it important to focus on Match first?

Research shows students who are well matched to a college are more likely to enroll, persist, and graduate from college.“Undermatching,” on the other hand, is a commonly-used term among researchers to describe when students enroll in colleges for which they are academically overqualified. These students often find themselves intellectually dissatisfied and academically disengaged and as a result drop out or transfer, often struggling to persist. First-generation students and/or students from high schools without a strong college-going culture are most likely to suffer from undermatch, which is why helping these students “see” themselves at college (calling back to our Episode 1 of this series) is so critical.

How can counselors and educators help students build a balanced list?

As a former college advisor, I often advised my students to build a list that included Reach, Target, and Likely schools. Reach schools were those for which my students were at or near a school’s published admissions criteria but admissions decisions were usually a wild card based on a host of uncontrollable factors (i.e., a campus’ specific enrollment goals). Target schools were those where a student’s GPA, test scores, and/or the rigor of their coursework was fairly well-aligned to a college’s admissions criteria but admission wasn’t necessarily certain. And Likely schools were those for which my students exceeded the published admissions criteria and were almost certain to be admitted. We highly recommend students begin their exploration by creating a free myOptions profile complete with an enhanced college matching algorithm to provide 25 solid matches.

Keep in mind that just because a student may be well-qualified for a particular school does not necessarily mean that school is a good “Fit.” Be sure to tune in next week as we turn our attention to the non-academic factors in the Match + Fit = Balanced List equation!

As you have these conversations with your students, don’t forget myOptions Encourage is here to support you as you support your students. myOptions Encourage is a no-cost platform that helps guide the planning process with integrated exploration apps, progress monitoring and reporting, and college application management tools. And for more, be sure to check out our Counselor Resource Library.