3 Reasons to Never Trust a College Finder Quiz

Seriously. Never depend on a college finder quiz or a college matching tool to build your college list. Why?

1. A college finder quiz assumes that students don’t change in college.

Does a person change much over four years? Of course they do – likes and dislikes, emotional range and depth, even fundamental shifts in values and priorities.

Do colleges change much? Nope. There’s a reason why one of the classic lightbulb jokes picks on college faculty.

Question: How many professors does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: Change?! What change?!

A college finder quiz ignores this fundamental contradiction. Instead, it requires that a student pick a set of preferences as if who they are at 17 years old is who they will be at 22. Matching a person who is in the midst of major change to a set of college characteristics that haven’t changed in decades seems, well, dumb.

So ask yourself this question: “would I rather grow out of a place or grow into a place?” Pick a college based on what you think you prefer today, and you’ll be having the “it’s not you, it’s me” conversation with your college sooner than later.

2. A college finder quiz assumes that everyone at each college is the same.

Even at a college where most students seem the same, values, priorities, and perspectives will differ. At colleges and universities that enroll a more diverse student body, the range of ideas, experiences, and interests creates a wide variety of subcultures.

Yet in order to match a student to an institution, a college finder quiz has to distill all of that variation into a single data point in order to generate a yes/no, match or mismatch decision. This dramatically misrepresents any college’s student body. It would be like taking a thousand men and women who range in height from 5’1” to 6’11” and describing them as a thousand humans who are all precisely six feet tall. Worse still, if we were to act on the assumptions that underlie a college matching tool, all the students at each college would eventually be virtually identical. No one likes themself that much.

The reality is that at almost every college, there will be classes that blow your mind and classes that put you to sleep. There will be students you fit in with perfectly and people that drive you nuts. A college finder quiz ignores all of that variation.

3. A college finder quiz doesn’t match you on the factors that actually predict college success.

What are the major factors that determine college success? Financial fit, academic support, and social connection. Unfortunately, the data that college finder quizzes use to match students to colleges don’t capture those critical elements at all.

Today, students and families rate cost and value as the most important factor in choosing a college. Yet, college finder quizzes never ask about your price range. Why? Because college finder quizzes don’t know which students pay what prices, and they can’t match students on data they don’t have. Worse still, when they match you on academic similarity, a college finder quiz automatically eliminates the schools that would offer the lowest price.

Whether it comes from friends, professors, a campus support office, or an online tool, academic support makes the difference for every student at some point in their college career. A college finder quiz can’t predict if you’ll get the academic support you’ll need because

  1. it can’t predict whether or not you’ll know when you’ll need it and,
  2. it can’t predict if the help you get will be the help you need.

Finally, social connection translates into a sense of belonging. Students that feel like they belong, no matter if that belonging connects to a large or a small group, succeed because they get personal support when they need it most. Can a college finder quiz predict whether or not you will find at least one other student that you click with—someone who probably isn’t yet enrolled at that college either? Of course not.

A better way? Flip the script

First, there’s no such thing as a perfect college match, and a “dream” college only exists on a Hollywood set. Young people change, colleges don’t. People can adapt, colleges shun change. Believe it or not, the times when things get tough are often the most important part of your college experience because it’s those moments that push you to grow. In the end, most people can make most colleges work for them if they take charge of their own learning.

Second, college isn’t the finish line. It’s the staging area for adulthood. What matters most is who you are and what you can realistically do after you finish. It doesn’t do much good to graduate with debt payments that are larger than most of your salary offers.

So, start by figuring out who you want to be and what you want to do after college. With that in mind, identify the knowledge, skills, and behaviors you’ll need to develop during the next 4-5 years in order to achieve your goal. Then you’ll be ready to combine a set of experiences—one of which is likely to be some sort of college—to become the person you want to be.

Which college? Turns out, it doesn’t matter enough to waste your time on a college finder quiz.

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