Report: Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity in Determining College Fit


Finding the “right fit” college can be a stressful and confusing process for students and families. Students often do not know how to find the “right fit” or what that even means.

To mitigate this uncertainty, some students turn to college rankings and the selectivity of an institution as indicators of quality. But this approach can be problematic as each student has a unique set of needs, goals, dreams, and desires in their college selection process that may not accurately be reflected in a college’s rank.

According to a report by Challenge Success on college rankings, “traditional college rankings measure a set of factors that are weighted arbitrarily, drawn from data that are most easily quantifiable and comparable, sometimes poorly documented, and not always relevant to undergraduate education.”

Members of NACAC and others have also expressed long withstanding concerns about college ranking publications. A NACAC report on the US News & World Report Rankings by an ad hoc committee of members found through member survey data that “college admission counseling professionals are, on the whole, negatively inclined toward rankings” and “that the US News rankings create great confusion for students and families interested in college information.”

The recent bribery scandal is a manifestation of the great misperception of selectivity equating to academic quality. But far more important than college selectivity is the level of engagement that an institution can provide to a student, according to the College Success report.

“Rather than choosing a school based primarily on a flawed scoring system, students should ask whether they will be engaged at the college in ways that will allow them to form strong relationships with professors and mentors, apply their learning via internships and long-term projects, and find a sense of community,” the report notes.

What a student does with their time at college and what skills they can use after graduation is more important than where they decide to attend.

The best chance for students to obtain skills that will help them be successful is to find an institution where they can best apply themselves to the learning process, inside and outside of the classroom, and still meet their unique needs and circumstances.

Gustavo Lara is NACAC’s project coordinator of educational content and policy. You can reach him at